Ophelia’s Secret: An opera created by Norwegian patients with mental health conditions
Write an Opera enables patients to create a haunting and infectiously upbeat new work.
Ophelias Hemmelighet, created as a result of the Write an Opera programme ©Bergfløtt Behandlingssenter
One of the highlights of my role at the ROH is receiving invitations to see new operas each summer. But these aren’t the latest offerings from Mark-Anthony Turnage or Harrison Birtwistle, much as I admire their work. No, these are invitations to visit schools across the country, to see performances of new operas that have been devised and staged by children and young people as part of the Write an Opera project.
Sometimes, when I can’t attend a show, an envelope full of pages of libretto, sketches for set designs, photos of the rehearsal process, or a DVD of the new opera lands on my desk. I watch each and every one with great enjoyment. From this season, however, there’s one stand-out performance.
Ophelias Hemmelighet (Ophelia’s Secret) was devised and staged in Lier, a small village 35km southwest of Oslo, Norway. Over the years, a number of Norwegian teachers have attended Write an Opera and gone on to stage new operas in their schools. But this was a Norwegian opera premiere with a difference as Ophelias Hemmelighet was devised, staged and performed by staff and patients from Bergfløtt Behandlingssenter, a treatment centre for young people with schizophrenia or other psychotic conditions who need residential care.
The DVD of the opera caused a real stir in the Learning and Participation office. Featuring a forest and sword, Ophelias Hemmelighet reminded us of Parsifal – a new production of which will be staged at the Royal Opera House during the 2013/14 Season. Not so reminiscent of Parsifal are the characters of Marvin the farmer, who sets out on a quest to break the curse that afflicts his one true love, and Vladimir, a vampire who works as a night security guard for a perfume company. The music by turn is haunting and infectiously upbeat and the set and costumes are both beautiful and clever. The band of musicians – comprising guitar, ukulele, piano, synths, drums and bass – sounds fantastic and the words are both funny and poignant.
The project was masterminded and led by social worker Halvor Tjomsland, who also played Marvin the farmer in the resulting opera. Halvor says: ‘It’s never been more fun to work, and never more rewarding. I continue to be amazed by the abundance of creativity in the patients, and by the positive effect this project has had on their everyday life’
Congratulations to all at Bergfløtt Treatment Centre. We can’t wait to hear about your next operatic adventure!
Write an Opera is generously supported by Mrs Lily Safra, The Material World Charitable Foundation, Teale Foundation and the Banham Charitable Foundation.