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The New Zealand dead settle uneasily into their graves at Monte Cassino. A Benedictine monk tries to save a lovingly carved juniper crucifix from despatch to Reichsmarshall Goering’s art collection. Michael F. Williams’s three-act dramatic opera is about sacrifice and appropriation, and about the sanctity and violation of great ideas and their thinkers: the Rule of St Benedict, Nietzsche, Old and New Testaments. The time slips dreamily between 1944 and 1960, when the daughter of one of the NZ soldiers finds her father’s grave. The libretto by John G. Davies, whose own father served at the battle, is as boldly discursive as the singing is quietly passionate and physically immediate. Williams typically applies a wide range of compositional devices, from Gregorian chant to serialism to beats that are almost (and almost anachronistically) poppy, but it works together beautifully and movingly. Julia Booth’s Helen and Pene Pati’s monk Carlo stand out in a fine cast and against a spare, effective instrumentation with sound fx by the composer.

BRIAN MORTON Read the full review on Agora Classica

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