I attended War Sum Up at the OzAsia festival not aware of what I was in for and was definitely surprised by how wonderful it was. It is a joint production from Denmark, Latvia and Japan but also includes people from the UK and France so it truly a international production.
War Sum Up is an operatic production but so much more. It was directed and produced by Kirsten Dehlholm of the international production house Hotel Pro Forma and performed by members of the Latvian Radio Choir.
The stage is set up with a scaffold with 2 levels with and the choir divided into the 2 levels. In front of them, downstage is the “Gamemaster” wearing a yellow dress who starts proceedings playing a tune on a mechanical music box and singing the opening operatic piece. We then slowly see the choir who have screens in front and behind of them. Manga style drawings are projected on the screens and the choir who are wearing off-white futuristic outfits.
The singers are singing in Japanese and are from the Latvian Radio Choir which was founded in 1940. A soloist is highlighted in each of the three parts of the performance. The first part is about the Soldier, the second about the Warrior and the third about the Spy.
The music starts with haunting Asian influences and later we hear beautiful orchestrations as well as jarring electronica building to a fantastic crescendo. Opera purists may cringe but the incredible multi-voiced singing and the powerful musical landscape they created made this the strongest element for me and I would have been as happy to see the performance with no visuals (although there were striking). It was also very effective when we only had backlight projecting on the performers only and we saw them in them in their striking costumes in silhouette only.
During the Soldier section, their ailments and the drugs used to treat them were projected on the screen like PTSD and avoidance. During the Spy section, they projected Spy terms and their meanings. Throughout the performance, we saw many manga drawings of the weapons of war projected on the screens. Above the stage was a small screen that provided the English translation of the Japanese singing. The one translation that stuck with me was “the honest man suffers in this world while the liar thrives” and I wondered if this was a comment on the state of politics at the moment.
OzAsia Review by Richard De Pizzol