What a week we have had at ETO – dress rehearsals, opening nights and some wonderful reviews of Albert Herring, The Lighthouse and The Emperor of Atlantis.
Herring opened first and the atmosphere in the foyer after the show was nothing short of electric. On the way out, I was lucky enough to meet many of our lovely audience members, one of whom told me a story about the opera’s first ever tour.
A friend of his, who had sadly just passed away, was playing the part of Cis – one of the children in the opera. Cis is joined by Emmie and Harry to form the 3-strong gang of local kids who relish in taunting Albert.
Britten himself conducted the first tour. At each venue a local boy played the part of Harry (just like in our current ETO tour). However, on one memorable night the boy playing Harry was unwell. So, without a cover, the girls playing Cis and Emmie had to make do – singing his music and making up for his absence. All was going well, until the moment when Harry was meant to climb over a door singing ‘mind my trousers!’. Already half way over the door and wearing a white dress, the girl playing Cis was momentarily stumped by the line. She then got a brainwave, shouting ‘mind my knickers!’, much to the dismay of Benjamin Britten. Fortunately she brought the house down!
The Atlantis opening night felt equally steeped in history as the performance was preceded by a local choir and a pre-show talk.
These events provided a powerful context to the show. A song cycle, composed by Helen Chadwick from poems written by children in the Balkans war, was beautifully performed by a group of children from Barnet. This led into a discussion with Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, a renowned cellist who played in the women’s orchestra at Auschwitz. She was interviewed onstage by journalist Jessica Duchen. Talking about her experiences in the concentration camp and how music literally saved her life brought a hauntingly human perspective to Atlantis.
This music really is timeless.