Creative Responses to Conflict

Award winning duo, the British Composer Adam Gorb, and librettist Ben Kaye, have composed two acclaimed operatic works that are creative responses to conflict

Gorb’s challenging opera, Anya 17, reflected the terrible reality of Sex Trafficking in the EU and, more recently, The Path to Heaven dealt with Holocaust themes.

The Path to Heaven (2017-18)

A powerful tale of extremism, expedience and deceit, The Path to Heaven exposes the disintegration of the loves, lives and hopes of a family struggling to survive during the Holocaust. An opera in one act on the subject of the Holocaust, The Path to Heaven is Adam Gorb‘s fourth collaboration with librettist Ben Kaye.

The Path to Heaven was semi-staged, and the premiere took place at the Howard Assembly Room in Leeds on June 19 2018, performed by musicians from Psappha and The Royal Northern College of Musicwith a second performance at the Royal Northern College of Music on June 21. The director was Stefan Janski and the conductor Mark Heron.

The opera opens as Sara, Hanna, Dieter, Magda and Hans return home from a party to find that, having ‘danced too long in the moonlight’, evil stalks them from the darkness. The discovery that their adoptive parents have disappeared triggers a descent into a nightmare from which none escape unchanged. A meticulously-researched series of individual real stories has been woven into a thrilling new opera for the 21st Century.

In composing The Path to Heaven, Adam became very involved with exploring the lives and work of musicians that worked under the threat of the Nazis.

“The holocaust and its resonances in recent history is an area I have long wanted to explore musically and dramatically as a composer. My background is Russian Jewish and I still count myself fortunate that my grandparents’ generation looking for a new life to escape from the pogroms in Russia at the start of the 20th century chose in the main to settle in the UK rather than the European mainland.

The theme of survival in impossibly dangerous circumstances is one that is all too relevant today and I hope the new opera reflects that the dangers faced now have continued relevance and resonance as they did in the 1930s and 1940s, as are the perils of human relationships across a cultural divide. ‘Art under the threat of catastrophe’ is a concept that excites me greatly.” – Adam Gorb

In December 2015, Adam travelled to Barletta in Italy to meet the musicologist and pianist Francesco Lotoro who is acknowledged as a world authority on music written in World War two camps. He interviewed Francesco about his work for a radio programme about music written in the camps, with particular emphasis on the transit camp Terezin in the Czech Republic and the composers who worked there. The programme was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in January 2016. He has met with many Holocaust survivors, including Zdenka Fantlova, Arek Hersh and Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, whose books about their wartime experiences provided invaluable inspiration for the project.

Ben Kaye has written of The Path To Heaven:

Musically there were two great challenges: to write a dramatic stage work that, despite the horrific context there would be a hopeful message at the end of The Path to Heaven, which would chime in with my view borne out by my meetings with survivors that the Holocaust was a failure, and Jewish society and culture lives on triumphantly.

The other goal was to write a work where fifteen woodwind, brass and percussion instruments could provide support, colour and vibrancy to complement the seven singers. This particular combination of instruments is capable of extreme force and great tenderness, plus humour and satire where appropriate. Most importantly where words need to be heard, they are, and the dramatic structure is clear to the listener.

Since its premiere, The Path to Heaven has been performed by the Wichita University Opera Department (November 2019) and at Texas A and M University (January 2020).

Anya17 (2012)

Anya17 is a one-act opera written to expose the world of sex trafficking and slavery in the UK. Its narrative revolves around four young women deceived and trafficked from Eastern Europe, and their struggle to survive. Its aim was to highlight the real lives behind the trade in humans, primarily for sexual slavery.

Composed by Adam Gorb, to a libretto by Ben Kaye – and directed by the award winning director of Slave – A Question of Freedom, Caroline Clegg, Anya17 exposed the intertwined lives of those sold into sexual slavery as they struggle to survive in the hope of ultimate salvation.

It was premiered in a semi-staged version at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall on 7 March 2012, where the 14-piece orchestra was the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic’s Ensemble 10/10; a second performance was given with a student orchestra at the RNCM on 9 March 2012 as part of the New Music North West Festival.

Anya17 was also performed in Romania in October 2013, Germany (Meiningen Opera, November 2013-February 2014), San Francisco (Opera Parallele, June 2014) and Los Angeles (Angles Vocal Art, July 2016). In Romania it was the concluding event to the Third International Symposium on Human Trafficking held in Arad. It was performed at the Fiharmonica Banatul in Timisoara by a joint UK-Romanian cast which included the RNCM’s Andrea Tweedale, Amy Webber and Thomas Hopkinson.

Another outcome of the staging of Anya17 was an invitation from the Ministry of Internal Affairs in conjunction with The UK-Romania Friendship Foundation to take the opera around Romania and also to repeat their successful International Human Trafficking Symposium.

A variety of video interviews with cast and composer have been made, and the librettist created and more information on the project can be found on its website. Read a review of Anya17 on The Arts Desk.

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