THE genre of pop cantatas on a religious subject began with
Herbert Chappell's The Daniel Jazz (1963), which launched
a series of Old Testament follow-ons: the Goliath Jazz,
Holy Moses, the Creation Jazz; and the most
famous, Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat by
Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Some of the catchiest, sacred and secular alike, were composed
by the late Michael Hurd (1928-2006), who excelled at composing
clever, manageable, but challenging scores for energetic children's
choirs. Jonah-Man Jazz and Swingin' Samson have
recently been revived on disc (Naxos) by the New London Children's
Choir, directed by Ronald Corp. Adam-in-Eden and King
and Conscience (about St Thomas Becket), witty and serious
alike, are other prime examples.
One of the UK's most accomplished youth-opera groups, Jubilee
Opera, based in Benjamin Britten's home town of Aldeburgh, has just
staged Hip-Hip Horatio (1975), Hurd's spoof on the life of
Admiral Lord Nelson, written for the Southend Boys' Choir, who also
recorded it and several of the works above (now reissued on
What is not fully realised is how brilliantly these cheerfully
irreverent works translate to the stage, given (as here) a suitably
precocious cast, and captivating design and costumes. An
intelligent orchestration for small forces, though not strictly
necessary, is preferable. Here, one was supplied by Jubilee's
conductor, Timothy Henty, who with five players elicited subtle
combinations worthy of a full orchestra.
In the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh, where Britten operas were first
staged, the cast responded accordingly. The singing, from boys and
girls, mostly drawn from three local primary schools, was
exemplary. So was the acting: from the ubiquitous Rector of St
Martin-in-the-Fields (13-year-old William Rose, an engaging mimic),
and the slightly less frenetic Vicar (Fleetwood Daniels) of St
Mary's, Burnham Thorpe, in Norfolk, Nelson's birthplace, to
colourful cameos from Theo Bimson, who doubled "Kiss me, Hardy"
with a colourful calypso band leader, and an empathetic Egyptian
camel (Nathan Hayward).
Nelson (Toby Garrington), in Frederic Wake-Walker's inventive
and endlessly detailed production, was a diminutive, semi-reluctant
hero, hoisted from comfortable beginnings to an improbably lofty
position on Europe's waters, before laudably expiring, one-armed,
one-eyed, and seemingly one-witted, amid grieving burial
The vital quality of this gifted ensemble stemmed partly from
the ability - given their head - of these children, mostly not yet
teenagers, to devise characterful ideas for themselves.
Wake-Walker, directing (and better known from the Opera Company,
Mahogany Opera, and Glyndebourne), inspired in them a power of
invention and stage discipline way beyond their years: not a
gesture was wasted, fluffed, or muddied.
The final word, inevitably, goes to the indomitable cleric from
St Martin's (hence guardian of Nelson's Column); but also to his
elder brother, playing the landlord of the Trafalgar Tavern (Jamie
Rose: a singer of some talent and pathos, and an engaging
The company's repertoire is not all comedy. They recently
excelled in Hans Krása's Brundibár, an opera conceived and
performed in Terezín, the Nazi concentration camp. With a range
such as this, it is hardly surprising that Jubilee leads the
field in staging children's opera.