Jacko’s Hour

Elfyn Jones
Jacko’s Hour – an opera in three acts to a libretto by Tim Satterthwaite

Jacko Rollins – Brian Smith Walters
Amy Rollins – Annabel Mountford
Grace Rollins – Stephanie Seeney
Sarah / Eliza – Amy Payne
Damien Pierce / Tony – David Douglas
Jimmy / Geordie Pierce – Danny Standing
Mickey Rollins / Craig – Zachary Roberts
Will Kane / Arthur – Henry Deacon

Leo Nicholson (piano), Lucas Frontini (double bass) & David Sterritt (percussion) conducted by Elfyn Jones

Alice Pillar – Set Design
David Alcora – Lighting Design

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 15 September, 2009
Venue: Bridewell Theatre, London EC4

Fred Zinnemann’s film “High Noon” (1952) was the least ‘western’ film in the entire history of the genre. Short on the usual action until the last few minutes, it was loathed by John Wayne who thought it merely an allegory for the blacklisting of Hollywood figures at the time. Written and co-produced by Carl Foreman, then a controversial figure who refused to name names at the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings, it was more a drama about an outsider but set in cowboy garb. In the film the townspeople desert Marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper) who is left to stand alone against a gang of killers. Despite the controversy surrounding the film, it managed to clean up at the Academy Awards, winning four Oscars, although not for Best Picture. Cooper won for Best Actor and his award was accepted on his behalf by none other than his friend John Wayne.

Opera Engine is a partnership between writer and director Tim Satterthwaite and composer Elfyn Jones who have collaborated in opera and music-theatre over the past ten years. Their aim is to “take the profound humanity of the voice as our point of departure, seeking to create a musical drama of lyricism and melody that portrays the full intensity of human emotions. Our characters struggle with universal dilemmas, their private agonies and ecstasies taking flight into song.” Rather than turn “High Noon” into an opera, for “Jacko’s Hour” Opera Engine has taken the plot of Zinnemann’s film as an inspiration for the resulting piece, although Jones does include snatches of Dimtri Tiomkin and Ned Washington’s Oscar-winning song ‘Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’’ as part of the score.

Elfyn JonesThe setting is the site of a touring fair in Yorkshire where Jacko Rollins runs the Lone Star Shootin’ Range. His daughter Amy wants to marry Damien, nephew of Geordie Pierce who was responsible for the death of Jacko’s brother Mickey seven years earlier. When he finds that Geordie is about to be released from jail, he has to decide whether to leave town or face his avenger. Unable to sleep, Jacko thinks about the events of seven years before and dreams up a visitor in the guise of Marshal Will Kane from “High Noon” who helps him choose his fate.

“Jacko’s Hour” is a full-length, three-act opera which is an impressive fact on its own. It is few composers and lyricists who can these days sustain a work for a whole evening, but Elfyn Jones and Tim Satterthwaite have managed it. A single caveat would be that it could perhaps be trimmed a little at the edges, just to tweak some of the slower moments. The music covers a variety of musical genres, many reflecting the fairground nature of the plot as there is a certain percussive razzmatazz to some of the tunes. The opening moments brought several other composers to mind, such as Britten, Janáček, Weill, Leonard Bernstein and Nyman, although there is no slavish imitation at work here. In the opening piano music of act three did I perhaps detect a hint of Puccini?

This will give you an idea of the musical style which is always attractive, seductive even, throughout. The composer and lyricist seem particularly adept at writing for ensemble voices and there is some impressive work for various sextets during the piece. Opera Engine’s policy is to promote promising singers from the UK conservatoires at the transition point in their professional careers.

For “Jacko’s Hour” they have found a highly talented cast. Brian Smith Walters as Jacko presents a definite solidity in his characterisation and has a rich tenor timbre that is highly charged. Soprano Annabel Mountford as Amy is obviously destined for great things. She has a special talent for vocal expression, a pure voice that carries every musical line with perfect precision. David Douglas as Damien and Tony has an attractive high tenor voice, while Danny Standing also brings two characters to realistic life, first as the sympathetic Jimmy and then the evil Geordie, with equal stature. Zachary Roberts, Stephanie Seeney and Amy Payne also impress in a company that is cast from strength. As the iconic figure of Will Kane, Henry Deacon makes a very special mark on the piece.

The composer conducts his score, which uses piano, double bass and percussion, to full effect. On the whole this is an impressive new piece of musical theatre that deserves a wider showing.

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