Saturday, 13 August 2022

Opera gears up for the 200 road ragers’ assault

NEXT week sees Garsington Opera’s first specially commissioned community opera take to the stage. Around 80 children from primary and

NEXT week sees Garsington Opera’s first specially commissioned community opera take to the stage. Around 80 children from primary and infant schools in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire have been chosen to take part alongside members of Garsington Opera’s youth and adult groups as well as a handful of professional soloists from the opera company. Cast ages range from six to 86 and there will be about 200 people on stage.

The opera Road Rage was conceived through a series of workshops last year and gives people with little or no experience of performing the chance to work with professional singers and a professional production team.

Director Karen Gillingham says: “It has been a real passion of mine to do a community opera, so to be there right from the beginning of the idea, and now actually doing it with children and adults who are really passionate about it, is incredibly rewarding.

“My passion is for this inter-generational thing as well. It’s not often if you’re 86 that you get to communicate with primary school children on a regular basis. And it’s good for them to be doing something together where they are all equal. We’ve got teachers in the cast as well, so the children will see their teachers performing alongside them. It is a unique opportunity for them and for me.”

The hour-long opera explores the theme of protest, and tells the story of a community divided by plans to put a new toll road through an ancient village. A minister, a surveyor and a political advisor battle it out with the villagers, observed by talking animals and trees.The piece has been written by the dream pairing of satirist Richard Stilgoe, co-writer of Starlight Express and Cats, and composer Orlando Gough, who composed the music for Glyndebourne’s community opera Imago earlier this year, as well as working on last year’s Tree Of Light at Stonor Park. The result is a funny, fast-paced, action-packed piece with a score that ranges from beatboxing to classical lyricism.

“It’s been really good fun to do,” says Gough. “We had a very enjoyable time workshopping to find out what local people were thinking and what would interest them as the subject of an opera. Lots of ideas came up and we chose this one.” Stilgoe agrees. “It has been wonderful fun,” he says. “Part of the sad result of education is that sometimes you squash children’s imaginations.

“One of the reasons you need to keep doing music education is because it keeps alive that side of the brain where imagination is. Children who do music are much more open to ideas and more fearless about expressing them.”

The project is largely about breaking down barriers and making opera more accessible.

“We all wish it wasn’t called opera, because it is a word that blows people’s fuses,” says Stilgoe. “But I don’t know what else you would call it. I know from experience that people in it will remember it forever.”

Road Rage is at Garsington Opera on Wormsley Estate on July 19 and 20. Tickets are £10 each. Visit www.

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