An opera commissioned by ENO
A clip from the opening sequence of Between Worlds from the English National Opera production at the Barbican in April 2015.
Between Worlds is a spiritual and poetic drama, based on the events of 9/11; opening out to a universal panorama of human beings in extremis. The work, a collaboration between director Deborah Warner, composer Tansy Davies, and librettist, Nick Drake, was premiered at the Barbican Theatre, London, in April 2015.
The opera involves five key characters. The JANITOR (baritone) should have left before dawn, his cleaning job done; but today he stays on for the extra pay. So he’s there when four further characters arrive early to view an unoccupied office high in the North Tower, the shining city all before them: an OLDER WOMAN (mezzo), the realtor; an OLDER MAN (bass/baritone) who runs the company; and a YOUNGER WOMAN (soprano) and YOUNGER MAN (tenor) who work for him. Once the plane has hit, these characters quickly realise they’re trapped; their desperate need is to speak to their loved ones, one last time; the OLDER WOMAN wants to speak to her CHILD, the YOUNGER WOMAN to her LOVER, the YOUNGER MAN to his MOTHER, and the OLDER MAN to both his mistress and his wife. In these last words, they try to express their most profound feelings – their fear, their courage, their loss, and above all their profound sense of love.
As the situation deteriorates, The JANITOR must confront his own fears to help them all to pass through and beyond the terrible abyss before them; he does this through his vision of the SHAMAN (counter-tenor), a kind of spirit guide who exists in a realm above and beyond the drama of that particular day, and whose role is to transform pain into beauty, through devotion. He is a walker between worlds, a god of messages and transmissions, and a wire-walker across the abyss.
The opera also embraces other aspects and stories of that day, by means of the 20-strong CHORUS, who witness, question and lament the events as they happen. And from the CHORUS we also draw forth individual characters, such the loved ones of our characters in the office; two FIREMEN who ascend the towers in an attempt to save as many lives as possible; a SECURITY GUARD; and the YOUNGER MAN’s MOTHER, desperate for news of her son, who can only sit and wait for the call that will change her life forever, and transform her into the voice of universal agony and grief.
The creative team believe the libretto’s intersecting stories and the epic dimensions of the score give the opera enormous scale; musically, dramatically, thematically and above all, emotionally. Ultimately, it is a work about courage, grief, love and healing.Hugo Glendinning