The World Première Of Mike and Kate Westbrook's opera "JAGO"
commissioned and performed by Wedmore Opera, took place in Wedmore
in Somerset on July 12th, 2000. A total of three sell out performances
(12, 14th & 15th July) were warmly appreciated by audiences and
Post & Press Ltd.
in 1947 JAGO tells the mysterious
story of a black GI returning from America to the corner of
South-West England where he was posted during the war.
The eponymous hero of the opera, Jago, finds the village locked
into post-war austerity. With him comes Desiree Jane Finch
visiting her home after some years in the city, and wearing
her controversial 'new look' frock.
They find that school teacher Ann Brand is soon to be married
to Hender Estcourt, the local organist.
Jago's spell the complex web of relationships between the
main protagonists begins to unweave.
this central story are the stories of the village people.
who are a rich mix of tragic and comic characters, spivs and
toffs, plain country folk and, overshadowing them all, the
sinister figure of the Dog's Meat Man.
On Ascension Day the past, present and future come together in an astonishing
denouement as Jago's true identity and condition are revealed.
forces involved in this new opera are four main soloists, a dozen
smaller featured roles, a chorus and a children's choir, plus a 20-piece
was commissioned by Wedmore Opera from Mike Westbrook (music) Kate Westbrook (libretto).
"Mike Westbrook's score is a seamless amalgam
of styles ranging from English pastoralism to big band swing...The
message of peace shines through as much as it does in Kate Westbrook's
evocative libretto.'' John Allison - The Times
Westbrook's music for his first full-length opera was continually
engaging...the musical language was rich and varied....Jago was proof
of the transfiguring power of art..Jago deserves a revival as soon
as possible''. Phil Johnson - The Independent
BIRTH OF JAGO
the team involved from the conception of this project, these world
première performances represent an amazing journey, much hard work,
and the Unshakable belief that we wanted to be part of the creation
of a new artwork to enrich our own lives, and to leave behind something
to be enjoyed by future generations. The journey, although tough,
has also had many twists and turns of coincidence and good fortune.
1995 Ruth Cawsey, a dear friend from primary school days (who
incidentally has been part of Wedmore Opera’s orchestra since
the first production in 1988), invited me to a concert in which her
husband, the saxophonist Pete Whyman, was taking part. It was
the opening of the Bath Festival and Mike Westbrook had been
commissioned to write a piece to be performed by his Big Band. That
piece, “Bar Utopia”, was for me,
the beginning of this journey. Quite simply I found Mike’s music a
September 1996 we gave the millennium celebrations our first thoughts
and Marylin Johnstone, my long time collaborator in Wedmore
Opera, said in a wild spontaneous moment— we could even commission
an opera. The seed was sown.
1998 we were airing ideas for celebrating the year 2000, we even had
a meeting at the Cathedral in Wells to investigate staging an opera
there, but somehow it didn’t seem right to take the performances out
of Wedmore. In parallel with those doubts, lottery funding was available
to mark the new Millennium, so the dream of a new opera became feasible.
Although our successful bid actually covered only a third of our projected
costs, we were on the road.
Marylin and I had our first meeting with Mike and Kate Westbrook at
their South Devon home on September, 1998 and gradually "Jago"
began to emerge. It has been a great privilege to meet and work with
two such talented people and their creativity has become part of our
lives. Over the last two years we have all lived with the characters
in “Jago” constantly, talk of them often,
and regard them as friends.
The performances this week have had comparatively little rehearsal. “The
Silver Tassie”, for example, was seven years in the pipeline with
a budget beyond our wildest dreams. It is a tribute to everyone involved
that we have managed it at all. Our sincerest wish now is that "Jago"
should move on and secure the permanent place in the repertoire it
so richly deserves.
JAGO: THE MUSIC
The music begins in G major and ends in F minor. In the course of writing the score for “Jago”,
I frequently came back to the simple change from a major chord to
the minor chord one step lower. Through different keys and inversions,
in different contexts and with numerous ramifications, this change
became the musical subtext of the opera. The many possible juxtapositions
of the two chords gave me a musical framework through which I could view
the characters and events in the story.
In the process of setting Kate’s libretto to music, I drew on my own
memories of the music that was around in the immediate post-war years-
the English pastoral tradition certainly, and church music, and music
hall, but also the American popular music of the day with its lavish
show tunes and Big Band Swing. In particular at that time, I became
aware of the enormous impact of Black American culture, of New Orleans,
the Blues, and the revolutionary new music of Be-Bop.
leap-frogging from past to future is brilliantly encapsulated in Charlie Parker’s composition “Donna Lee” written in 1947. Like Jago’s return and Desiree’s “New
Look”, Bop ensures that “nothing will be the same, ever again". MIKE
JAGO: THE LIBRETTO
When contemplating the subject of a Millennium opera for Wedmore,
I wanted to identify a turning point in the 29th century, and the
underlying theme to be a Christian one.
I decided upon a story which centres on a village in the South West,
and I had in mind a few crucial moments, - the quartet at the end
of Act 1, the opening of Act 2, and the children’s Ascension Day hymn
at the start and finish of the opera. I made a graphic “score” of
the outline, inserting the characters that already had substance,
and a shape began to evolve.
The date 1947 came to me early in the process as a significant one for
people in this country. There was an exceptionally cold start to the
year, and then came the thaw from austerity into greater affluence
and optimism after the war, and of course, Dior’s "New Look" which
somehow epitomised this change of mood.
Whilst I enjoyed researching the period, finally my interest was not in the
documentary aspect but rather in revealing a spiritual truth. The
pivotal character, Jago, is a G.I., back to visit the area where he
had been stationed during the war. Looking into this aspect I came
upon a reference to Death Row in American gaols where the prisoners,
mostly black, referred to the hanging trap as the "dance hall"
This was the key that unlocked the story.