TO mark the tenth anniversary of Martin Emslie’s oratorio Omega and Alpha, the Wells Cathedral premiere was revived at Yeovil’s Westlands with several members of the original Castle Cary Choir and two of the soloists, mezzo Marta Fontanals-Simmons and high tenor Jonathan Ansell, who rose to fame as a member of classical boy group G4.
They were joined at Westlands by bass-baritone John Savournin, much to the delight of the audience. Organ accompaniment was provided by Stuart Whatton and the performance was again conducted by the composer.
The vast open spaces of Westlands, without the magnificence of Wells, tested the choir, and the amplification provided for the centrally-placed organ was sometimes excessive. As you would expect, the voices of the three soloists soared above the choir who, on several occasions, sang much more convincingly unaccompanied by the organ.
It was a joyful celebration for many of the singers on stage and for the audience, who have known the moving work since its beginning. The story is also a chilling reminder of just how quickly a crowd can turn when fuelled with fake news, and how politicians traditionally turn their backs on responsibility.
The beautiful voice of Marta Fontanals-Simmons, who grew up in Castle Cary and has made a career in opera and oratorio, appearing at Glyndebourne, Covent Garden and the Proms, has developed over the decade since the Wells premiere, when the choir was supported by a 50-strong orchestra. The intensity and passion of her singing was a triumph at Westlands.
John Savournin’s thundering bass, used for many of the “baddie” roles in the story, was a magnificent addition to the company, and Jonathan Ansell’s impassioned Christ brought whoops and applause.
Omega and Alpha was written as an oratorio to be sung by amateur choirs, some of whose members might struggle with the Latin and German of the more conventional repertoire. But Martin Emslie determined to retain the intensity and passion of the subject, using his title as a recurring and timeless theme. The work has lost none of its power in the decade since it was first performed.
Since then Martin has composed Hansel, Gretel and the Enchanted Forest, with the aim of encouraging young people to appreciate, understand and enjoy classical opera. We look forward to hearing it.