At 76, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Master of the Queen’s Music, is one of the country’s most distinguished composers, with a vast and impressive back catalogue to his name. Always a committed artist, his latest opera represents one of the most overt political statements of his career.
The libretto by David Pountney – who also directs – collates three narratives of rebellion against a repressive system. In the first, baritone Adam Marsden represents James Meredith, who in 1962 became the first African American to register as a student of the University of Mississippi. In the second, set in Germany in 1942, members of the White Rose movement protest against the actions of the Nazi regime before being caught and executed – their rallying cry, addressing “fellow students”, gives the opera its arcane title. In the third, set during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, a young brother and sister denounce their “reactionary” parents, in whose subsequent officially-sponsored murder they are complicit.
Fast moving in its presentation, the production is a punchy piece of theatre that proves surprisingly topical, even if its overall look and naive stance – there are obvious heroes and villains, with nothing in between – recall 1970s agit-prop.
So does much of the score, wide-ranging and effective though its use of pastiche is, and drawing on the techniques of the memorable music theatre works that first brought Maxwell Davies to notoriety. Visually, this is a fine realisation, purposefully conducted by Jane Glover, though ultimately its simplistic viewpoint and air of nostalgia tell against it.
Royal Academy of Music, London, March 21, 23, 25
- Sir Peter Maxwell Davies
- David Pountney
- RAM/Juilliard, New York
- Adam Marsden, Nathalie Chalkley, Frederick Long, Johnny Herford, Irina Gheorghiu, Jonathan McGovern, Katie Bray
- Running time