11 August 2011 at 3.12pm | Comment on this article
People are gathering to the monumental sound of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries. In the air, there’s an unmistakable sense of anticipation and excitement; the kind of buzz that tears through an opera house on opening night of a new production. And this is the premiere of a new show, indeed, of a new opera - but I’m not in an opera house.
I’m in the playground of Shaw Primary School in South Ockendon, Essex, awaiting the opening performance of “The Battle of Marathon – a historical operatic adventure”. The show is part of the Royal Opera House’s highly successful Write an Opera programme for teachers. The entire show – plot, libretto, music, set design, costumes, lighting, marketing & PR – has been devised and created by year 5, who have renamed themselves HERO’s Opera Company for the project. All this, supported by their inimitable teacher Caron Barkins, who attended the Write an Opera course in 2009.
I joined the Royal Opera House as Opera Education Manager in May this year and Write an Opera is one of the projects I now oversee. I’ve spent time with colleagues familiarizing myself with the programme and reading some of the paperwork that ROH has accumulated in the 25 years they’ve been running Write an Opera. Nevertheless, I’m yet to see one of the shows produced according to the Write an Opera model and I’m as excited as I am intrigued. Two children aged 9-10, the front of house managers, the very picture of professionalism, invite me to take my seat in the front row of the Infant Hall. The lights go down. And so it begins…
“The Battle of Marathon” was a resounding success. The children’s ownership of the piece, and their enthusiasm for it, were palpable. In the following weeks, I went to further Write an Opera performances in Gravesend and Folkestone. Though each show is clearly underpinned by the Write an Opera methodology, all three are unique and highly creative. Who’d have thought of an opera set in an old-fashioned amusement arcade where the action centres on a 2p machine? Brilliant!
This weekend, I’m setting off to Dartington International Summer School for the annual Write an Opera course. It’s strange, having had a taste of the kind of performances that Write an Opera generates, now to be heading off to find out what the essential ingredients are that go towards making those performances. It feels rather like seeing a magic trick and waiting, with baited breath, to find out how it’s done. I’m looking forward to it enormously.
See our previous blogs:
Write an Opera: photo gallery (all the pics)
Do-it-yourself: write your own opera (the background story)