The Water Diviner’s Tale

Rachel Portman/Owen Sheers
The Water Diviner’s Tale [BBC commission world premiere]

Water Diviner – Nonso Anozie (narrator)
Weather Girl – Frances Bourne (mezzo-soprano)

Helen Williams (soprano)
Robert Burt (tenor)
Riccardo Simonetti (baritone)
Paul Reeves (bass)

Lost Children [chorus members selected by BBC New Talent]
Berkshire Maestros Youth Choir
Bromley Youth Choir
Members of Chantage
Hertfordshire County Youth Choir
Members of the National Youth Choir of Great Britain
Members of Taplow Youth Choir

BBC Concert Orchestra
David Charles Abell

Denni Sayers – Director
Anna Bruder – Designer

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 27 August, 2007
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

This was a large spectacle, not without colour. The opening was a fairly robust musical storm with spotlights, high up on either side of the organ, shining simultaneously and intermittently. A boxing ring in the Arena was bare.

After the storm, ‘Lost Children’ poured down various aisles, gathering on this main platform, enlivening its muted green with a patchwork of multi-coloured tops. Adult attendants handed the children what looked like frozen mobiles – blue fishes on sticks and, later on, what may have been abstract symbols of fossil fuels. These adult attendants also gave voice to ‘adult’ views on gas, oil and coal consumption. The BBC Concert Orchestra sat in the usual place. Above were the massed ranks of some 40 young people in the choir stalls. Sitting by a gangway on the top row, in a bright yellow dress, was the Weather Girl. She expressed a bleak and extremely long-range forecast for decades to come.

In terms of spectacle, the star of the show was the narrator – the Water Diviner. His extravagant light-blue headgear was matched by a long light-blue gown. Carrying a very long, very dried-up twig, he appeared from behind the conductor and gravely descended to the Arena to lament the environmental catastrophe, his failure to divine water and querying whether life on our planet has a future.
The ‘Lost Children’ were homeless, water-less and nigh future-less due the apocalyptic storm, brought about through global warming and caused by adults’ misuse of our planet’s resources. The Water Diviner, after some spiritual journeying on his own account, gave them two insights: their collective voice is strong, even though their individual voices are weak; and children must open adults’ eyes to the ways of nature. A sober but viable future can be created. There is still time.

Rachel Portman’s previous dramatic/operatic work was “The Little Prince”. Saint-Exupery’s simple and piercing innocence will last as long as people use words. Poet and novelist Owen Sheers’s words, though noble and sincere, are not quite of this calibre. I found his script rather old-fashioned.

Portman’s music was more skilled: simply scored, but demanding; alert and adept. She has, after all, received an Oscar for her film music. Different moods were nicely judged and delineated and – whether from orchestra, youthful choirs or adult soloists – executed with resounding vigour and freshness.

Will the piece make ‘green’ converts? Maybe. It certainly had the sterling worth of engaging full musical commitment from its performers – and invoking their ‘green’ allegiance, too.

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