Jonah – 1977
St. James, Notting Hill, London W11
December 12th 1977
The W11 Children’s Opera Group has established a tradition of custom-made operas, lavishly dressed, full of production numbers and picturesque happenings of all sorts, in which action takes place in and around the audience. And so, in Timothy Kraemer’s Jonah, the ship — a two-decker — lies to the east, the illuminated ribs of the whale towards the west end, while Jonah battles with the waves or languishes under the gourd in the centre aisle. The music too moves unselfconsciously from style to style, with a leaning towards pop, with some interesting and touching sections for Jonah in distress, as he so often is, and with nice chamber-music textures in the orchestra.
Occasionally, I felt a division as between two composers, one inviting us to listen to real music, the other providing basic material so that a good time could be had by all. As indeed it was; the large cast were given many tunes they could sing, chant or shout with gusto; the excellent orchestra, conducted by Nicholas Kraemer, gave a professional edge and drive to the whole piece.
The real difficulty with Jonah is that the episode of the whale overshadows all later events, so that, inevitably, the operatic bomb explodes prematurely and later action has to be artfully contrived. But this was a community celebration as well as an opera, and as such there was no doubt of its success