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Orfeo: An opera of debuts and collaborations, and the young people at the heart of it

How The Royal Opera and the Roundhouse are engaging with the next generation of artists through Monteverdi’s Orfeo, the first great opera.

By Hayley Bartley (Former Content Producer (Learning))

15 January 2015 at 12.51pm | Comment on this article

The Royal Opera and the Roundhouse's new production of Monteverdi’s Orfeo opened in Camden this week. It is a production of firsts, with a brand new staging of the work, an operatic debut from director Michael Boyd, and a new collaboration between The Royal Opera and the Roundhouse. More than that, the production is providing opportunities for a younger generation of artists through the Roundhouse's creative projects and the work of the Royal Opera House’s Learning and Participation team.

Both on stage and behind the scenes, young people are at the heart of this production. From the singers and dancers performing in their first professional opera, to the filmmaker directing her first professional film, Orfeo has inspired a number of exciting projects for up and coming young artists.

‘It has been a particular joy to follow the project development and see everybody come together in the most exciting ways, bringing their curiosity and skills to the table,’ says Kasper Holten, Director of The Royal Opera, about the scale of collaboration for this production.

An ensemble of singing students from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama appears in each performance. The nine postgraduates from the school’s vocal department will shadow a principal singer in the cast as an understudy. It is a great opportunity for these young singers to experience performing in a professional opera and perhaps follow in the footsteps of Guildhall’s successful opera alumni, including Sally Matthews, Anne Sofie von Otter and Bryn Terfel.

Also performing in an opera for the first time is a company of 14 dancers from East London Dance. The dancers are part of a larger community of 11 to 21 year olds who took part in free workshops exploring the themes of Orfeo. Working with professional choreographers, including Assistant Artist Nathan ‘Neo’ Gordon – best known as an artist in Flawless and for starring in the Streetdance 3D films – they have devised a routine using circus skills and contemporary dance that features in Orfeo’s wedding scene.

‘I love working with the young people and seeing their enthusiasm, their energy, and their imagination’, says Neo about the young company. ‘Working with dancers of different abilities and different backgrounds has been so inspiring.’

Twelve-year-old dancers Lilas and Kerim are two of the younger members in the company. They both found out about the project through their local acrobatics company Mimbre, founded by Lina Johansson, the Circus Director for this production.

‘I didn’t imagine the project to be this big’, says Lilas. ‘It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and it’s really special because not everyone gets to do it.’

‘The arts keep you off the streets, it’s something to do in your free time instead of staying at home and playing video games,’ says Kerim. ‘It will help me in the future too because this can go on my CV, and people will see that I was involved in theatre and that I was in a professional production.’

Off stage, young people from North London are creating Monteverdi fanfares to be played before the start of each performance. All the pieces are composed or arranged entirely by the young people, who are aged between 11 and 21. This project coincides with The Royal Opera House’s annual Fanfare competition, which offers entrants the chance to compose a 30-second Fanfare to be played to thousands before every main stage performance of the Season.

Orfeo has also inspired digital projects involving young people. Last year a group of 11 to 14-year-old game-designers joined industry professionals to create an audio adventure game ‘Don’t Look Back’. The game is situated after the events of Orfeo, with the player taking on the role of Euridice, a character from the opera. The young designers developed all aspects of the game including, characters, scripts and audio content. Though many of them were familiar with game making and playing, they were experiencing opera for the very first time.

‘During the project we came for a tour of the Royal Opera House and a talk about the opera. Seeing what went on behind the scenes was really amazing’, said Aaron, one of the young game-makers.

Young broadcasters from the Bloomberg Broadcast Volunteers, a course offering young people the chance to gain valuable experience and professional mentoring within the creative industries, have also been involved in the production. The Royal Opera House Insights team worked with participants from the programme to produce the recent live-stream event from the Roundhouse’s Studio Theatre. They were involved in every aspect of the broadcast, including directing, scripting, editing and camera operating.

Alice Sephton, a young filmmaker from the Bloomberg programme, was also selected to direct the Roundhouse’s trailer for Orfeo, which follows the protagonist on his journey from the Royal Opera House to the Roundhouse.

‘Developing and scripting the idea for the trailer, pitching it, and having the opportunity to direct a professional crew has given me great experience for the future, as well as being an invaluable addition to my show reel,’ says the young filmmaker. The experience has also encouraged Alice to apply for funding to make her own short film later this year.

Orfeo’s director, Michael Boyd, is enjoying working with the young artists and believes their youthfulness is a real benefit as they ‘bring fewer preconceptions than people who have been working in the profession for a while, so there is a freshness and an honesty about their work.’

Though the director is concerned about the current state of the arts for young people, which he believes is under a massive attack. ‘It is crucial for young people to be involved in order that the arts don’t get stale,’ he says. ‘There needs to be audiences and performers in the future that reflect the world we live in, and unless we sharpen their skills and develop their understanding, then the arts will atrophy.’

The production is a new collaboration between the Roundhouse and The Royal Opera.

East London Dance is generously supported by Molly Lowell and David Borthwick.
Fanfare is generously supported by Mrs Lily Safra, Molly Lowell and David Borthwick.
The Learning and Participation programme for Orfeo is supported by Prudential PLC.

Find out more about the work of the Royal Opera House’s Learning and Participation team

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