Migrations: A guide to Flight, Death or Fog

1 September 2022
Two men, kneel together, one topless, one in white shirt, holding knife between them

Welsh National Opera’s latest commission, Migrations, interweaves six differing stories on the theme of migration over a period of 400 years. Flight, Death, or Fog is inspired by the life of Pero Jones, a slave taken from Nevis to serve in the house of the Pinney family in Bristol during the 18th century. Pero’s life has been well documented, and his history as well as his connection to Bristol inspired librettists Edson Burton and Miles Chambers to focus on Pero’s life as part of their contribution to the opera.

The story begins with a dinner party, and as Pero serves the Pinney family and their guests, the Holbrooks, we catch a glimpse of his home back in Nevis as he reminds himself of his hopes and dreams for his life. Later that evening, following hours of humiliation and dehumanisation, we see Pero in a reverie, thinking of his ancestry, and we are introduced to his heritage and his loved ones - his grandfather, father and wife, Bridget. In this dreamlike state, we see how the figures from Pero’s life represent the choices that he is torn between.

All of those values are reflected in our psyche today, in black or white peoples. Psyche, the sense of responsibility, the sense of love and passion, and that’s what keeps you going. Or the sense of pride that if things aren’t good enough or to a certain standard then what is the point?

Miles Chambers, Librettist

Pero Jones was given status within the household, being entrusted with the daily running of the house, all  while being under the ownership of John Pinney. Edson found that he wanted to explore this troublesome dynamic within the piece, especially with the parallels to modern slavery and exploitation today. Within the piece, we see how Pero is able to support his family back in Nevis while in the Pinney household, and it’s easy to see how Pero’s story echoes stories of migrant workers in the United Kingdom today. In a report by the BBC in 2018, it is believed that migrant workers in the UK are sending £8 billion a year to support families in their home countries.

Remarking on how Flight, Death or Fog represents the slave trade, Edson says that ‘One of the inspirations for me is that a lot of my writing work does try and look at the transatlantic slave trade. I guess, for me, it’s impossible to escape the transatlantic slave trade in telling the story of modern Britain and the Americas. I think it’s such a transformative experience, that it’s hard to pull away from that. Of course, there are ways in which we need to consider the black persons and black history outside the intersection with Europeans via slavery. At the same time, I think there’s a danger of trying to pull away from that without fully understanding how profoundly that’s shaped our modern world. It’s something that continues to occupy my creative life, even if it’s about contemporary issues or concerns.’

Delve deeper under the skin of our new opera and explore each individual story within Migrations by purchasing a programme from our online shop, and make sure to experience the opera for yourself as it goes on tour as part of our Autumn Season, visiting Cardiff, Llandudno, Plymouth, Birmingham and Southampton between Sunday 2 October and Saturday 26 November.