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Requiem of remembrance

ENO’s staging brings an extra dimension to Britten’s thrilling and sorrowful War Requiem oratorio

22 November, 2018 — By Sebastian Taylor

ENO War Requiem: David Butt Philip, Roderick Williams and ensemble. Photo: Richard Hubbert Smith

Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem oratorio is a resounding success performed by ENO as an opera at the London Coliseum.

The piece was written to be performed at the 1962 opening of the re-built Coventry Cathedral,
And it’s become the staple of choral societies around the world.

Often, I’ve found ENO operatic stagings of oratorios to be unsatisfactory, notably Handel’s Messiah and John Adams’s The Gospel According to the Other Mary. These productions tended to detract attention from the music without adding much in the way of dramatic development.

But that’s not the case with the War Requiem where the operatic production complements the music, adding an extra dimension.

Britten’s score alternates between music for excerpts from the Latin Mass and Wilfred Owen poems, often alternating between choral pieces and soloists singing Owen’s poetry.

Fortunately, director Daniel Kramer has eschewed giant photographs of First World War soldiers going “over the top” and Second World War carnage. Instead, the 80-strong chorus plus 50 children from the Finchley Children’s Music Group occupy the stage virtually throughout, mostly in semi-darkness.

Soloists move among the chorus, soprano Emma Bell in flaming red dress with a brilliant white head of hair.

Tenor David Butt Philip and baritone Roderick Williams sing Owen’s words together or apart.
A huge photograph of a white chrysanthemum dominates the stage at one point, a photo of Srebrenica remains at another.

And underpinning it all is Britten’s amazing orchestral score, majestic, thrilling and sorrowful, ably delivered by conductor Martyn Brabbins.

• Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, London Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane, WC2. November 27, 29, December 4, 7. 020 7845 9300, www.eno.org

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