Picture: Bristol Evening 

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Press Quotes

"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

''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

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.

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".


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.


an Opera two acts

by Mike Westbrook
libretto by Kate Westbrook

commissioned by Wedmore Opera
JAGO is set in an imaginary Somerset village during the long cold winter of 1947. In the bleak aftermath of the war a glimmer of hope is symbolised by in the arrival of Dior’s ‘New Look’. But everything for the villagers is changed by the strange appearance in their midst of a black American GI, Jago Custos, who had been stationed nearby in the war, and a tragic love story unfolds.
Mike Westbrook’s score is written for 4 principal soloists, with 12 soloists in supporting roles, 12 soloists in supporting roles, children's choir, chorus and chamber orchestra.
Jago was premiered in July 2002 in Wedmore, Somerset
with Wills Morgan in the title role,
and principal soloists Marie Vassiliou, Richard Chew and Loré Lixenberg.
Musical director Carolyn Doorbar, stage director Marilyn Johnstone

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Kate & Mike Westbrook
Kate and Mike Westbrook