Monday, 20 May 2019

Red kites and road rage provide ideas for opera

NATIONAL treasure Richard Stilgoe has written a brand new one-hour opera to be staged by Garsington Opera this summer.

NATIONAL treasure Richard Stilgoe has written a brand new one-hour opera to be staged by Garsington Opera this summer.

Road Rage, a large-scale community opera specially commissioned by Garsington, tells the story of villagers outraged by plans to build a road through the countryside, and will feature more than 180 people on stage, ranging from schoolchildren to pensioners.

This is the first time an opera has been commissioned by Garsington, which moved to its new home at Wormsley on the Oxfordshire/Buckinghamshire borders two years ago.

Stilgoe shot to fame on BBC’s Nationwide back in the Seventies, with the satirical songs he wrote and played on piano. He has many other credits to his name during a long career — most notably, he co-wrote Starlight Express and Cats.

He has worked on the hour-long project with composer Orlando Gough, who staged the Tree Of Light spectacular in Stonor Park last year, which also featured hundreds of children from local Oxfordshire schools.

Stilgoe said the piece was “funny, political and quirky” and had been created after workshops held in primary and secondary schools. He added that he had very much enjoyed working in and getting to know the local area.

He said: “One minute you are on the M40 being dive-bombed by red kites, the next you are in the peace and beauty of Wormsley, surrounded by ancient trees. This contrast has been our starting point in which a community stands up and sits down for what it believes in.”

He explained that recent government-endorsed plans to build a high-speed rail link from London to Birmingham and Manchester — the so-called HS2 — had provided inspiration for the project after consulting with local groups.

“Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire must feel they have been singled out for transport schemes,” he said. “The Romans built the Icknield Way through it, the Georgians dug the Grand Union Canal, the 20th century drove the motorway through the chalk hills and the 21st century threatens HS2.

“We took this idea to the groups we visited and their reactions were diverse and powerfully expressed. So this is a story about how a huge road scheme divides a community, not only physically but socially, as they battle over the appropriate level of protest and deal with internal arguments, incoming professional protestors, rent-a-crowd and the media.”

Composer Orlando Gough, who wrote the opera Imago for Glyndebourne last year, said he had also very much enjoyed the creative process.

He said: “The culmination of all the lively local workshops with many different ages over the past year is the creation of a jazzy, fun piece for our talented and diverse group, including characterful solo lines for amateurs singing alongside professional singers. There are also challenging choruses written in three parts — and a smattering of rapping red kites.”

The project will enable those who have little or no experience of live performance to become involved — the producers are looking for performers and technicians. More than 50 people will be recruited to work as backstage volunteers and the opera chorus will be made up of schoolchildren. Anybody wishing to take part in the production is invited to attend one of two final recruitment workshops at Stokenchurch Primary School on Saturday, February 23 (12- to 18-year-olds) from 11am to 4pm, and on Sunday, February 24 (adults) from 11am to 4pm. Contact 07709 871133 or email

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