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Tippett's text is undoubtedly naïve in places but we needed to hear it more clearly. Brindley Sherratt's bass was eloquent through most of the evening but after his shocking narration: 'He shoots the official', the alto (Sara Fulgoni) failed to project the vital response: 'But he shoots only his dark brother -- and see -- he is dead.' That got lost before it crossed the footlights. Some choruses came across as a wall of sound rather than a vital and immediately intelligible message. I've always liked the story that, when Tippett conducted a performance in Atlanta, the largely black audience joined in with the spirituals. I think they would have found the lack of rhythmic spring in the Coliseum a tad difficult to identify with. Overall, however, Martyn Brabbins conducted a well-paced account -- especially moving in the slow tempo for the Chorus of the Oppressed: 'When shall the usurers' city cease, And famine depart from the fruitful land?' and the gradually unwinding tension of Part Three. Susan Gritton and Timothy Robinson both sang with conviction and a sure sense of the required style even when they seemed to have been asked solely to drift around or stand still and look intense.

A scene from 'A Child of Our Time' at English National Opera. Photo © Neil Libbert
A scene from 'A Child of Our Time' at English National Opera. Photo © Neil Libbert

'The only truth I shall ever say', is how Tippett described his Jungian affirmation from near the end of the work: 'I would know my shadow and my light, so shall I at last be whole.' Any performance of A Child of Our Time should require its audience to engage with that claim. A concert rendition enables more concentration on the words without the distraction of stage action. But there is an involving, absolutely contemporary story to be enacted here. This was a production of many lost opportunities that, for all its musical virtues, is definitely not the last word on staging this piece.

Copyright © 25 January 2005 David Wilkins, Eastbourne UK




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