Opera in Pieces

Spitalfields Music is very proud to be working with two extraordinary artists, John Barber and Hazel Gould, who have been commissioned to develop a brand new community opera that will premiere in our Summer Festival in 2011. Currently a work in progress the opera will involve singers from our Neighbourhood Schools, Women sing East and our newly formed community choir, Spitalfields Singers, joined by our Summer 2010 Associate Artists, The Sixteen.

The Opera in Pieces commission launch in our Summer Festival this year gave an insight into the devising process of the opera and introduced the creative team behind the piece. Members of The Sixteen joined us to give a workshop in preparation for the continuing work on this project until the opera’s premiere in Summer 2011.

Hazel Gould gives an insight into the work that has already started:

I have always wanted to write a piece about rats, which appal and fascinate me in equal measure. They say that you are only ever three metres from a rat in London, but rarely do they allow themselves to be seen, preferring to stay in the dark and at the edges of our architecture. I began to imagine how the communities of sewer rats could somehow reflect the busy hustle and bustle of the city streets. Rats and humans, such uncomfortable bedfellows, but both absolutely embedded in the infrastructure of London.

When John and I were trying to find a good starting place for this piece we had a few elements in place: we wanted to write a piece that takes place in 2011, rooted in reality, but with an element of magic. We needed a clear and simple narrative, but plenty of characters and moments to write for the six choirs and many singers. And I still wanted to write a piece about a rat.

John suggested the Hans Christian Andersen story The Shadow about a man who loses, then finds again, his own shadow. Never one to let an idea go, I was desperate to hold onto the wizened old rat that I’d been imagining, so we wove the two narratives together, so that it is a rat that steals a man’s shadow. Why? He doesn’t have one of his own. So that was where we began.

During 2009, 2010 and into 2011, John and I have been, and will be, working with the diverse groups that will perform this piece. It is knitted into this project that the participants will have a large hand in devising and shaping the text and the music. In that sense, John and I are more like creative managers, gathering ideas and drawing them together into a coherent piece.

Through lots of workshops, an online forum, informal chats and formal meetings, we will put meat on the bones of this story. Now that we know where we are starting, we are looking forward to working with many of our participants and colleagues to see where the story takes us.

[Photo credits: Jez C Self]

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