Anne Frank’s story, as captured in the diary that was discovered and first published over 70 years ago, is both harrowing and inspiring. Her first-hand account of being a Jew in hiding during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands lends a poignant, humanistic perspective on reviewing the history of World War II and the Holocaust. Hers is a tale of heroism, optimism, and survival straight from the source, recounting the two years she spent hidden away in a secret attic with eight other family members and friends.
It is a piece of history, so inspiring that it has been translated into roughly 70 different languages and adapted into numerous plays and films. Add to that James Whitbourn’s Annelies, a 2005 composition that is an oratorio in 14 movements for choir and soprano, with a libretto by Melanie Challenger, which truly brings life and dynamism to Anne Frank’s text. Based on the world-famous book, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, Challenger’s libretto uses excerpts directly from Frank’s original text, interspersed with biblical passages in English and Latin.
In a collaboration with the Temple Emanu-El Choir and their director Christopher Cook, the Arts District Chorale offered a performance of the piece on May 5 in Temple Emanu-El’s Stern Chapel. Led by the artistic director and conductor of the ADC Constantina Tsolainou, they had some success with the piece, however there was ample room for more dramatic and musical development throughout.
Musically, the collaboration was solid enough. The two choirs were accompanied ably by Brian Bentley on piano and members of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra—Emmanuelle Boisvert on violin, Jeffrey Hood on cello, and Paul Garner on clarinet. Together, they were attentive, sensitive, and expressive. Whitbourn’s score moves through haunting moments of tension, like in the seventh movement “Fear of capture and the second break-in,” when Anne hears someone examining the bookcase that concealed the entrance to their hideaway. Then, there are brighter, more expansive moments, where lively sting and wind motifs depict Anne’s descriptions of Spring.
Most notably, the score hits a powerful “dies irae” moment with movement 12, “The hope of liberation and a spring awakening.” The movement begins on the text, “This is D-Day,” depicting the encroaching ferocity of the Allied Forces—their 11,000 planes and 4,000 boats—coming to liberate the country. The choir’s execution of the score, particularly here, was tonally strong, however the blending of parts was erratic. In big moments like movement 12, high-sitting vocals were pushed, instead of lifted, and the resulting sound was that of several voices, rather than one cohesive unit. Their diction, in both English and German, was not wholly uniform, which muddied the effectiveness of the libretto. In other movements, like the finale “Anne’s meditation,” the choir did manage to blend well, portraying sweetness and introspection.
Debbie Anderson’s soprano, though, was an all-around fitting vehicle for the character of Anne Frank. Her solos were marked with a tender lilt that was thin and light, but full when it needed to be.
Whitbourn’s Annelies is a beautiful adaptation of the story of Anne Frank, and as such, it is a crucial medium for examining one of the darkest chapters of world history. Through beautiful writing and an apt arrangement of Anne Frank’s diary entries making up Challenger’s libretto, the story is at once harrowing, uplifting, and enlightening. The Arts District Chorale gave the work a solid presentation, but one that could have benefitted from more balance in the choirs, and perhaps a touch of more astute musicality.