Four agitators are dispatched from Soviet Russia to foster revolution in pre-communist China. En route they meet a young sympathiser who offers to be their guide, but when they return to Moscow, they confess to his killing. When is it right to kill?
Birmingham Opera Company presents The Decision, a visceral, rarely performed work by writer Bertolt Brecht and composer Hanns Eisler. Here artistic, moral and social challenges come hand in hand. Living through a period of intolerance and censorship in the 1920s and 30s, Brecht and Eisler were both banned by the Nazis. Later, in their new adopted home on the other side of the Atlantic, the pair were investigated by the House Committee of Un-American Activities. Now in the 2020s, Brecht’s ‘learning play’ The Decision still has the potency to provoke. Birmingham's production is described by The Stage as ‘impressive, immersive’ and by The Spectator ‘as an encounter with a genuinely evil work of art.’
Wendy Dawn Thompson
Birmingham Opera Company Chorus & Actors
Birmingham Opera Company Orchestra
Visiting Delegates (aka. The Public as themselves)
Text and Lyrics
By arrangement with Universal Edition as agent for Hanns Eisler and Alan Brodie Representation as agent for The Estate of Bertolt Brecht.
By Richard Willacy, General Director, Birmingham Opera Company
With a full time staff of four and a single office in the Jewellery Quarter of the city, Birmingham Opera Company has an international reputation for taking opera titles and exploring them with volunteers and international artists in a successful and continuing partnership with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Long may it continue. Our next large-scale project is in planning as we speak. We re-imagine these titles in non-theatre venues and in new configurations. Every so often we also look to disrupt our own patterns, our own means of production and open the door as wide as possible to begin a new conversation between communities and artists. Birmingham Opera is a laboratory, a place to experiment.
The Decision is one such project and you too are invited to the gathering with this live broadcast from The Party Channel hosted by OperaVision.
The creative team, orchestra, production and performing artists are 100% freelance artists and the overwhelming majority are collaborating for the first time. Alongside topflight players, the band engaged emerging talent from CBSO Youth Orchestra and Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. For all these professional artists our offer is clear; come, experiment. We take possession of a non-theatre space with no advance design, everything to be ‘made’ in real time over a rollercoaster production period.
Critical in the development and re-imagining of our work is the role of volunteers; this direct contact with the people of Birmingham beta-tests the work for accessibility and relevance. For volunteers, of course time is precious, and to this end we sought a piece which featured a volunteer chorus front and centre and which could be achieved across twice weekly rehearsals over 2 months. Everything is learnt by ear with no written notation in hand. Looking to develop the role of our volunteer actors, The Decision provides a more voiced and featured involvement alongside a smaller professional cast. The means of production is shared equitably between forces. There are no auditions for volunteer actors or chorus. No fees or membership structures. Travel expenses are reimbursed and training is free.
The Decision in all its modernist clarity and confusion, dialectic and dogma has at its heart Eisler’s music. With all its wild jazzy riffs, anthems, reductive and threatening populism and cabaret, it explores, a century on from conception, stories which seem eerily familiar and by which Brecht incites and provokes: Do you provide shoes for the worker because they deserve shoes or because they’ll work better? How is goodness and care exploited by those who hold the purse strings? Is there even such a thing as ‘clean’ money?
Originally written for tenor, chorus and small orchestra, here we cast a mezzo. Beyond personality and empathy, the story and the action is retold by the four agitators who variously multi-role as police officer, merchant, strikers, workers, party officials, activists. As ever, the people of Birmingham appear ‘as themselves’ adorned in red as party members on arrival and vox-popped at the start and on departure.
The Decision sold out within hours of the ticket release and we hope this film captures some of what was an immersive and visceral experience for both performers and audience in all its edginess and challenge.