Extraordinary production of War Requiem marks centenary of WWI’s end

The Pureland Foundation and Bruno Wang Productions are honoured to support English National Opera’s production of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem.

This extraordinary production marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War – and represents the first full theatrical staging in the UK of the pacifist composer’s lament on war.

It is also Turner Prize-winning German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans’ first operatic commission. He collaborated with ENO artistic director Daniel Kramer to design a set that plays with light and large-scale images to create mesmerising visual poetry.

The set comprises three panels of 8m-high changing images and a 20m-wide back projection screen. The panels form a modernist triptych, brilliantly merging the Christian and the secular. (Click here to see some truly inspiring images of the production.)

The designer’s ambition was to offer up “a meditation on the themes of war and the repetitive cycle of war and the repetitive cycle of loss”.

In a dramatic opening, pages from one of the most important anti-war books of the 20th century are projected on to two of the screens. War against War is a collection of increasingly horrific photographs from the First World War by German pacifist Ernst Friedrich. His ironic captions mocking the idea of the glory of war flash beneath.

Britten takes nine poems by First World War poet Wilfred Owen and intersperses them with extracts from church liturgy and the Latin Mass for the Dead. What Owen calls “the pity of war” clashes with the cry of the 120-strong chorus: “Lord, grant them eternal rest”. The effect is shattering.

Poignantly, Owen died on active service in France a week before the Armistice. Britten was convinced of what the young poet memorably called “the futility of war”. He therefore requested that there should be no applause at the premiere of his choral masterpiece.

The production has garnered outstanding reviews. In watching this vehemently anti-war oratorio, one is “in the presence of something very great indeed,” says The Stage. “Visually mesmerising,” declares The Arts Desk. The soloists are “superb,” proclaims the Guardian, and “sing beautifully,” according to the Daily Telegraph.

It is a deliberately disquieting experience “lest we forget”.