Holocaust opera restaged in Chichester after Cathedral success

Youngsters from the first performance
Youngsters from the first performance

A staging of the Holocaust opera PUSH in Chichester Cathedral on international Holocaust Memorial Day at the end of January could easily have sold out three times over.

To meet the huge demand, it is being staged a second time, this time in St Paul’s church, Chichester, on Wednesday, April 11 at 7pm.

The performances have been masterminded by the Chichester Marks Holocaust Memorial Day committee which is chaired by Chichester city and district councillor Clare Apel, a passionate believer in our need to keep commemoration alive.

“Holocaust Memorial Day has now become something that people feel very strongly about because of what is happening today, the refugees, the drownings, the awful human rights abuses going on in the Middle East.

“It is also terribly important for me personally because so many of my father’s family were gassed in Auschwitz.”

It was something he never spoke about, but Clare believes perhaps as many as 40 of his family were murdered by the Nazis, something he discovered only in 1945: “And it virtually, mentally destroyed him. He was in and out of mental hospitals all his life, and he died in Graylingwell. He was an amazing man, but his mental health was not good. I feel I owe it to him to recognise Holocaust Memorial Day.”

The staging in January of PUSH did exactly that – an opera inspired by the true story of Simon Gronowski who, as an 11-year-old boy, was pushed off a train to Auschwitz by his mother in 1943. Simon survived and is now aged 86 and living in Brussels.

Simon’s life, in his own words, “is only miracles”. The opera’s title refers to his mother’s desperate and courageous gesture.

As Clare says, the story explores the best and worst in human nature, shifting in time to consider the plight of refugees, and cycles of war and suffering. Ultimately, the piece offers hope for our capacity for healing and forgiveness, even in the most challenging times.

The opera also draws on various accounts by families and individuals who have experienced refugee and prisoner status since the tyranny of William the Conqueror following the Battle of Hastings in 1066 to contemporary global events.

Composed by Howard Moody, PUSH was performed at Chichester Cathedral by a chorus of almost 100 adults and children from local community choirs and schools.

“But the disadvantage of the cathedral, if anything is visual, is that you have got an awful lot of pillars. 30 to 40 per cent of the people there were in the nooks and crannies. It is amazing for sound, but not so good for seeing.

“People loved the sound and said it was superb, but St Paul’s, though smaller will be much better for seeing.”

Because of the holidays, there will be a few fewer adults and children, perhaps 90 in total rather than 100; and rather than an orchestra from the University of Chichester, composer Howard will be present with his own octet.

“From the educational point of view, it was an extraordinary experience, but the other great thing is that a good number of the adults had never sung before, and they came up to the challenge of performing it absolutely brilliantly.”

Tickets for St Paul’s are available from the Chichester box office on www.thenovium.org/boxoffice or by phone on 01243 816525.

For other stories by Phil, see: https://www.chichester.co.uk/author/Phil.Hewitt2

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