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 critics alike.

Jago - Picture: Bristol Evening Post & Press Ltd.
Set 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. Under Jago's spell the complex web of relationships between the main protagonists begins to unweave.

Framing 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.

The 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 chamber orchestra. JAGO was commissioned by Wedmore Opera from Mike Westbrook (music) Kate Westbrook (libretto).

Quote "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

Quote ''Mike 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


For 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.

In 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 revelation.

In 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.

By 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.


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.

Be-Bop’s 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".


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.

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