This significant and ambitious project is best described by the composer/creator herself as “an experimental jazz opera that is also a musical investigation into the mysteries of an ancestral tragedy from World War II, as revealed through vocal rituals, ancestral tarot, free jazz and dreaming.” Jeanette Lambert was seeking a way to honour her forbearers, and also tell the horrific story of her multi-racial ancestors who passed through the horrors of the war, and their ultimate survival, achieved through the spiritual strength of her female ancestors. The tragedy originates with Lambert’s German grandfather – a civilian interned (along with his Javanese wife) by the Dutch in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) during the war. In order to manifest this epic, Jeanette called upon her own family as well as vocalists, poets and descendants of those who had also suffered the horrors of war and captivity.
In the construction of this large-scale piece, Lambert has used the structure of the Tarot to explore the truth of the Van Imhoff tragedy (the violence in Banten), and to ultimately instigate the dream-laden ancestral healing of all. The opera begins with Three of Pentacles – comprised of ancient, dreamy, diatonic a cappella chants that begin the journey. Ace of Wands follows… descriptive and poetic, and punctuated by percussive (Michel Lambert) and guitar (Reg Schwager) motifs. Lambert’s potent vocal instrument begins to relate the story through the infrastructure of the tarot, and with Dreaming of Pomelo a portrait of Indonesia begins to emerge as the tragedies loom.
On Four of Wands, gamelans and spoken word rail against the immoral incidents while military drum tattoos and vocal distortion plumb the horror. On Sorrow Unleashed, the weeping, wailing and keening of the mothers – reaching back into the mists of time – is underscored by heartrending string and flute lines. Lambert’s potent opera ends with the dream of hope and healing. This is a multi-disciplinary master work, and a journey that is essential for all free-thinking human beings. Brava.