On 18 July Cincinnati Opera presents the first-ever staging of Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Oratorio, directed by Caroline Clegg with Joseph Young conducting the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra; they are also joined by dancers from the Cincinnati Ballet and the voices of the Cincinnati Boychoir. The production is in rep until 27 July.

McCartney’s Liverpool Oratorio (1990) was devised with composer Carl Davis. The text for the 95-minute work is McCartney’s own and evokes his years growing up in the city and the hold it has on his imagination; across eight movements it follows a character named Shanty, tracing McCartney’s own life story from his birth during the Second World War.

Clegg discusses her new staging here; images of Leslie Travers’ designs here. Clegg notes,

Designer Leslie Travers and I have worked together to realize settings that allow for both the epic depiction of war and the intimate reflections of daily life. We found poignant inspiration from the Liverpool Blitz Memorial, depicting a mother holding a baby and a boy with a plane on the spiral staircase of an air-raid shelter. Our set sits alongside the River Mersey, where the ebb and flow metaphorically parallel life’s journey, and we can share its universality here alongside the Ohio River. Sir Paul’s school motto is heard throughout, reminding us of our desire for peace in our global family today: “Non nobis solum, Sed Toti mundo, nati. Toti mundo nat.” “Not for ourselves, but for the whole world, were we born.”

Shanty is sung by tenor Andrew Owens; Jacqueline Echols McCarley sings Mary Dee; bass-baritone plays the roles of Headmaster/Preacher/Mr. Dingle, and mezzo Kayleigh Decker sings Miss Inkley/Chief Mourner/Nurse.

Liverpool Oratorio was McCartney’s first foray into the classical idiom, and has proven one of his most successful works, with 230 performances to date. It was commissioned and first performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus in Liverpool Cathedral, conducted by Davis, with a starry line-up of soloists including Sir Willard White, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Jerry Hadley, and Sally Burgess; it received its US premiere from the same forces in 1991 at Carnegie Hall. Watch a documentary about the creation of the Liverpool Oratorio with Carl Davis here.