Canto General: Song of the people
Brisbane City Hall Auditorium, May 31
Directed by Mark Dunbar
Presented by BEMAC and Brisbane Biennial International Music Festival
Reviewed by Lynda Hansen
Canto General was presented to 1500 people after four months of preparation by an 85-member choir, 15 ensemble artists and two soloists. The blend of talent and energy transformed the political poetry of Pablo Neruda and powerful rhythms of Mikis Theodorakis into an epic two-hour production of voice and music.
Pablo Neruda, born in Chile in 1904, joined the Chilean Communist Party in 1945 and was elected a senator. In 1948, accused of treason by President Videla, he fled into exile. It was in this period that Neruda wrote Canto General.
Mikis Theodorakis emerged from his childhood during the Nazi occupation. He was imprisoned and exiled many times in the struggle for Greece's freedom and independence. After studying at the Paris Conservatorium, he returned to Greece to write songs for the people. He completed the music of Canto General for his friend Neruda, after the project was initially abandoned when the generals took power in Chile and Neruda died.
This collaboration created a rich and colourful tapestry reflecting the lives of people in struggle, presenting a truly internationalist perspective of unity in action. The eight-song program constantly draws parallels with the strength and evolution of nature and the emergence of resistance of humanity.
In "To My Party", Neruda writes to thank his beloved Communist Party: "You made me indestructible because with you I do not end with myself". Other songs praised Mexican and Chilean independence fighters Zapata and Lautaro.
The most moving part of the program was the requiem, which Theodorakis wrote expressing his anger and grief when learning of Neruda's death, which was hastened by the US-backed coup.
The songs were introduced in Spanish, Greek and English. The ensemble was impressive and vast. Soloists Flores and Marsh shone with professionalism, but it was the 85-strong choir that carried the production to its inspired conclusion.