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East and West (1995)

Duration: 2 Hours (including interval)

Libretto: Jonathan Moore

East and West is published by C.Ricordi and Co., London (LD934). Scores and parts are available on hire. There is also a German language version by Judith Sengen.
Please contact: Tel +44 (0)20 7384 8180

Love is a darkly bright flame!
Kamil - where are you?
Where's your reply to my letter?
Did you get the ticket?
Your safety ids all that matters now...
I won't be able to hide my love for you
When you come...if you come...
East and West

This two-act chamber opera has seven roles: Iolanda (mezzo); Ilac (bass baritone); Amira (soprano); Dieter (tenor); and Benno (high baritone). The scoring is for oboe (=cor, =ob. d'am.); clar in Bb (=bass clar., =Eb clar., =sop. sax.); euphonium; tuba; zither (or guitar); piano; 1 perc.; string quintet.

Each of the two acts has eight scenes and there is a fragmentary Overture which sets the scene and counterpoints various vocal images from later in the show. The plot is based on a real incident when Turkish immigrants were firebombed in 1993 by neo-nazis in Sollingen, Germany.
McQueen's attempt to confront contemporary issues operatically transfers this incident forward to 1995, when the Bosnian war was raging. The piece also builds on Jonathan Moore's previous plays about the mindset of angry and violent youth. The subject proved, in the event, highly controversial, perhaps when contrasted with the narrow social and historical range of much opera.

In the First Act, we meet Ilac Hallim and his family. They had emigrated from Bosnia as a guest worker to a mining town a few years before but he has now lost his job. His wife Iolanda has a small business importing artefacts and cloth from back home via Ilac's brother Kamil; who also lent them money for their move. Now Kamil is in a war zone and they are awaiting news of him. Ilac is furious with his daughter. AMIRA rejects his culture and his recent turning to the Islamic religion, in favour of all things Western.

The family argument is interrupted by the arrival of Dieter, the family's German friend and supporter, who comes to call with his seemingly shy son, Benno. After they leave; Benno is soon on his on and cursing his father for his empathy with these people - he is secretly a member of a neo-nazi group. Two other members of the gang, Suzi and Stinky, are later discovered waiting for him in a drug-fuelled haze.
Soon; they catch sight of their school-mate, Amira, on her way to a party. As the other two begin to cruel taunt her, Benno hangs back in the shadows. When she recognises him; the others run off at the sound of a police siren. He is contrite. He pleads with her to meet him later that night.

Meanwhile, Iolanda has, at last, received a letter from her brother-in-law, Kamil. It recounts all the horrors taking place back in their beloved Bosnia and begs for Ilac's help in getting to Germany. Finally, she reveals a hidden letter; one of many Kamil has enclosed with his main communications. Its contents are evidence of a long love affair between him and Iolanda. This guilty secret love makes her terrified of how she'll react should Kamil eventually turns up...she's very ambivalent.

Amira bursts in suddenly and blurts out to her mother about the gang's intimidating her - and how Benno was with them. Iolanda, in her turn, shows Amira her uncle's letter and is about to rush round to Dieter's at once, when Ilac appears in the doorway. After reading his brother's letter he syas he will borrow more money from Dieter and that all of them must turn to Islam to affirm their identity and their future.

As he prostrates himself to pray, sinister voices call Kamil to Germany and Amira slips out for her meeting with Benno. At he Pit Head, their growing mutual attraction seems doomed to failure; not least from the evil plans of the nazi gang...

East and West

Act Two begins with Dieter calling at the Hallim's empty house a few days later. He hears the intermingling voices of mother and daughter singing together in the garden and picks up a photograph of Amira and Benno playing as children. He sings of his naive vision of a multi-cultural Germany. The mood is shattered by the angry Ilac, who ignores Dieter's presence as he storms in calling furiously for Amira. She comes in and the two argue about how she was embarrassed to see her father waiting for her at the school gates and so she squeezed past him and ran home. On seeing Dieter Ilac thanks him for the loan of the money for Kamil's ticket when a distraught Iolanda also rushes in from the back garden saying she has just heard their friends Ahmed and Idrina, who nun a bakery nearby, were attacked the previous night and firebombed. When Dieter tries to comfort her, she screams at him to leave her alone because his son was probably with them. The quartet that follows shows just how divided the family now is.

As Ilac and Dieter go off to find Benno, Suzi and Stinky are rejoicing at their success in attacking the bakery. When Benno joins them, having avoided their criminal adventure, he is warned to be there when they go for their next target that night - the Hallims.

Once more, Iolanda is alone and brooding on her love for Kamil, as she senses his approach...

Up in her bedroom that night, Amira is worrying about Benno when she hears a tapping at the window and he climbs in. He describes the horror of the previous attack when the baker's family jumped screaming from the flames while the gang gloated. The pair pledge their love to each other.

When he descends the drainpipe again, Dieter and Ilac are waiting for Benno. They drag him inside to face a barracking from both of them and Iolanda. At last he escapes and runs off after telling them: "Look at the hate on your own faces!" He is soon joined by a totally disillusioned Amira. Ilac can't seem to realise that he cannot restrict her movements and subject her to his will. As Iolanda tries to persuade him of his folly, the situation between the couple becomes strained to breaking point. At the last, Iolanda reveals that Kamil is not the saint Ilac thinks and, indeed, he may be Amira's father. Before he can react the firebombing begins and the house goes up in flames.

Eventually, the dying Ilac crawls outside and expires, after asking his wife if she ever really loved him. As the others sing their words of hope over his corpse the youngsters join hands in defiance of the terror they have just witnessed...

Read the Press Comments

MP3 audio extract (1'38"):
Act 1 Scene 5

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