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Waters three-act libretto

August 19, 2005

Everyone under the sun has the power to change the way the world is arranged!

The Overture starts - a beautiful, mournful, and at times dramatic piece.

One soon gets the impression of a theatrical event taking place, confirmed with the appearance of The Ring Master (one of Bryn Terfel's roles) introducing the story (a very typically Shakespearean device). The idea is that the story of " Ca Ira " is presented in the form of a circus.

Cut to a Viennese garden in 1765, and the start of the story of Marie Antoine, at that stage a ten year old girl who was later to become Marie Antoinette, playing in the garden and dreaming of what it was going to be like once she was queen. A local lad berates her attitude in the whimsical, pretty little track, just to be told to pipe down!

The Ring Master uses the analogy of a bird singing, equating to the free spirit, unafraid to speak the truth about how life should be. This analogy of an "Honest Bird, Simple Bird" is developed further, showing how the seeds of revolution were growing, and introduces the other two main vocalists on the piece - Ying Huang (as the voice of Liberty, Reason and The Republic) and Paul Groves (as a Military Officer).

"Let Us Break All The Shields" has the three of them (Groves, Huang and Terfel) singing to a powerful crescendo clearly demonstrating why they are amongst those at the very top of their profession.

Very powerful orchestration, understated and melancholy, allied to Groves' and Terfel's vocal, expresses the growing discontent and worsening situation of the ordinary French people.

Things descent further with the slaughter of protesters ("France in Disarray") where orchestration is kept at a minimum to highlight the singer's emotional delivery. With the storming of the Bastille, the hope of the dispossessed grows and "So To The Streets In The Pouring Rain" raises the tone of the piece to determined optimism.

The story is swung around, with the King Of France's realisation of the situation, and hope for his offspring to be seen in a better light than him. Sadness turns to irritation and defiance, leading to a grand ball that features the waltz heard in passing, in "The Overture".

The ticking of a clock, and the striking of a match for a candle, starts off "The Letter", with Louis XVI writing to his cousin Charles, while the rain falls on his cell window, dreaming about Charles in his Spanish castle.

A beautiful song - with the melody line from Every Stranger's Eyes - "My Dear Cousin Bourbon of Spain" has Louis setting out his desolate feelings on events on the page.

"The Ship Of State Is All At Sea" reveals how supplies of everything - even the all-important coffee - have dried up. "Silver, Sugar and Indigo/To The Windward Isles" develops this further, switching the action to a ship bound for the farflung island, to pick up more supplies - but with Ismael Lo's plaintive cry for freedom from slavery. The song becomes, in musical terms, a huge production number, with the added voices of Terfel and Huang.

With the Roman Catholic church also supporting the monarchy, feelings continue to grow in the streets, and the menacing orchestration reinforces this.

An attempt to flee to Prussia fails, as does a declaration of war on Austria when the Duke of Brunswick threatens Paris with destruction, all of which enrages the revolutionaries even more. The military tattoo of the music shows them marching through the streets, demanding justice - even in the face of a firing squad, cutting them down as they sing, defiantly.

The sadness pours out of Terfel's vocal on "The Echoes Never Fade From That Fusillade", lamenting those "who's only crime has been to dream of freedom". However, with the sound of a bird taking flight, the note turns more optimistic and determined.

The whole point of Roger's opera is summarised neatly in a line from "Vive la Commune de Paris", when Terfel sings: "Everyone under the sun has the power to change the way the world is arranged" - the power of the individual to make a difference, to stand up and be counted.

The National Assembly sentences King Louis XVI to death, after abolishing the monarchy. An effectively paced execution scene; it might be just me, but the demise of the King at the end of "The Execution Of Louis Capet/Adieu Louis For You It's Over" has an unintentionally amusing note to it. Certainly, there's an element of pleasure, relish or delight in his captors voices as they bring him to his conclusion.

It's now Marie Antoinette's turn, and amidst some wonderful choral work, her end is explored, she laments her life - particularly poigniently, her children. This song was inspired by a letter she sent to her sister - which impressed Roger greatly.

With Antoinette dead ("Adieu, My Good And Tender Sister"), the republicans consider the evil of the guillotine - how they've all suffered, the rivers of blood, and how "the great and the small are equal after all..." They look to the future with optimism, having "the strength and the bravery to feel what we feel, and be what we'd be".

The final crescendo cry of " Ca Ira " concludes a piece of work that totally exceeded my expectations. Rich and atmospheric, with subtle, yet powerful orchestration, and superb vocal performances throughout. Bryn Terfel's vocal, in particular, is wonderful - clear, crisp and perfect diction throughout. With a piece like this, it is vital to be able to understand the vocals, and Terfel's delivery is exactly right.

The performances deliver emotion and resolve, and there are a few echoes of Roger's previous work hidden here and there, to ensure even the most cynical fan gets something from it. Thankfully, Roger has kept these to the minimum, and the additional sound effects (for atmosphere and story progression) are not overused, striking the right balance. Those who might be concerned that (particularly for the surround sound SACD release) the sounds of cannons, gunfire and guillotines might be the main focus, can rest easy.

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