In week in which dozens of migrants perished in a lorry in Texas, as Rwanda continues to be the UK government’s preferred destination for asylum seekers and the country’s new protest laws came into effect, the premiere of National Opera of Wales‘s Migrations was timely. As a massive exercise in collaboration and inclusiveness, and for its commitment to the fundamental concept of freedom, Migrations was an important and courageous undertaking, even if ultimately compromised by its overall ambition.
Director David Pountney‘s epic began as a project for 2020 to mark the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower and Pilgrim Fathers’ escape from persecution, but has expanded to become an examination of the age-old need to seek change. With six different narrative threads, five authors from different backgrounds and the heroic effort of a single composer, Does Todd, the interweaving of stories over time avoids becoming confusing thanks to the titles and supertitles of the sections. However, it has become unwieldy.
Eric Ngalle CharlesThe story of Birds, centered on the phenomenon of migratory birds, taking up the symbolism of their power to fly freely and the miracle of their fundamental DNA to make the connection with the human aspiration for freedom. This recurring metaphor was delivered with innocent charm by singing and dancing children. Treated 6 by Sarah Wood was the contemporary narrative of the struggle against the installation of an oil pipeline that violates the territory of the indigenous peoples of Canada. Woods was also the author of The English Lesson, his individual immigrant stories of harrowing reality.
Flight, death or fog by Miles Rooms and Edson Burton was based on the Bristol slave trade and the endurance of Pero, enslaved to the Pinney family. One of the most powerful points of the evening comes when his employers speculate with a laugh “Do niggers dream?” followed by a memorable arioso melody flight as Pero sings, “I dream…that we are free of your kind.” With a strong presence Aubrey Allicock like Pero and Brittany Olivia Logan while his wife, Bridget, became the most prominent vocal personality of the evening.
Following two Indian doctors who arrived in the UK in 1968 and faced prejudice, This Is the Life! was the worst-reviewed of the sequences, although the contribution of sitar virtuoso Jasdeep Singh Degun gave it authenticity. And the finale, featuring astronauts ostensibly migrating to the unfathomable stars was, well, a step too far.
Given that the fine first half had so much going for it, it’s a shame that the second half sustained the momentum less convincingly. But conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren brought together the full force of the WNO, plus the community Renewal Choir, with plenty of talent throughout; the joy of the participants was palpable.