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From school pupils to opera stars through Write an Opera programme

A visit to Gainsborough Primary School reveals some inspiring results.

By Kate Hodson (Education Officer)

21 May 2012 at 5.57pm | Comment on this article

On a wet Thursday afternoon, in the shadow of the Olympic stadium, I arrive at Gainsborough Primary School to watch a premiere of a new opera. An unusual venue, but this is no ordinary opera. It has been created by 60 Year 2 children, also known as the Best Birds School Opera Company. The Best Birds’ teacher, Michelle Hepworth, took part in the Royal Opera House’s Write an Opera course and tonight’s performance is the result of months of work.

Excited parents and other audience members are led up to the school hall, where we’re greeted by the young company’s PR team, who hand us each a programme and usher us to our seats. The stage is furnished with props designed and made by the pupils; birthday presents and a cake are set on the table, bunting and balloons hang from the hall’s climbing frame. Next to the stage, 10 members of the orchestra sit with xylophones, drums and hand held percussion. One of the stage crew, six-year-old Beatrice, stands up to introduce the performance: “We have been working very hard and did all of this ourselves. We hope you enjoy this performance of ‘The Birthday Party’”. The lighting team fade the hall lights down, and the children are ready to begin.

The opera is a 30-minute tale of a burglar who decides to break into a birthday party but is spotted by a keen-eyed neighbour. Apprehended by the police, the burglar says sorry to the guests and offers to clean up the mess he has made. He then sings an aria about the importance of forgiving others, and the opera ends with a final chorus from the guests who invite the burglar to stay and join in the party. The performance is beautifully lit by the company’s lighting team, and includes projections, the use of different colours to represent characters’ emotions and even a mirror ball! As well as impressive design, the production shows an amazing insight into the moral issues explored through their opera.

“I love doing painting and colouring. When I sing my body feels strong and healthy and when I am happy my heart goes happy and excited. I love opera – it makes you sing and dance. We all have a party!” – Shaquana, aged 7

Their teacher Michelle, came on the Write an Opera course in 2008 and has been creating operas with her pupils ever since. Watch her talking about her experiences of the in-school Write an Opera projects:

There are still places available on this year’s course which will take place 11–18 August in Dartington, as part of the Dartington International Summer School.  For an application form or more information visit our Write an Opera page or email education@roh.org.uk. Applications close on Friday 1 June.

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