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Bloom Britannia, a people’s opera set in our town

Bloom Britannia: a people’s opera for Hastings

Premiere of the new people’s opera, Bloom Britannia will take place in Hastings this autumn. Telling the story of one extraordinary day in the life of a seaside town, Bloom Britannia brings together a cast of people from the towns of Hastings, St Leonards-on-Sea and Bexhill, performing on stage alongside top professional singers and a live band. Experience a hilarious, raucous, challenging, action-packed, thrilling production celebrating the joy of singing and music to bring our communities together. HOT’s Zelly Restorick went along to the cast’s last rehearsal for the summer.

BLOOM BRITANNIA, a people’s opera

St. Mary in the Castle, Hastings

Friday 22 October and Saturday 23 October: 7.30pm

Sunday 24 October: 4pm

 Tickets from £10 from www.barefootopera.com

A ukulele-playing busker, a statue of Queen Victoria brought to life, a hen party, a choir of angry fishermen and a corrupt Mayor are just some of the characters that appear in Barefoot Opera’s new ‘people’s opera’, Bloom Britannia. Bringing to life the fun as well as some of the friction experienced by the residents of a fictional British seaside town as they compete in a national competition, it promises to be a story we can all relate to.

Barefoot Opera has provided free teaching and workshops for schools, charities and community groups like Seaview Project and Arts On Prescription for the last few years. Local schools, Dudley Infants School and Hastings Academy, are also involved, as is Hastings Philharmonic Choir. This is an opera, but not as you know it. Local people of all ages will be performing in Bloom Britannia, alongside the professional cast and with the Barefoot Band, including ukulele, violin and accordion and even the odd spot of beat-boxing.

Professional singer Marcia Bellamy in rehearsals Photo Janet Hodgson

Several years of development

The outcome of several years of development, the opera began life in 2018 when hundreds of people from the towns of Hastings, St Leonards-on-Sea and Bexhill took part in singing and talking workshops, learning how to write songs, improvise, and sing together, led by a leading creative team. A huge momentum was generated by the project after a thrilling interim performance of Act 1 of the opera at the De La Warr Pavilion in 2019. The project was then thrown off course for a year by the pandemic – a huge disappointment for Barefoot Opera and the entire cast.

However, thanks to funding from Arts Council of England, many other funding bodies and the Good Governance Institute, rehearsals have again been in full swing since Easter with a stalwart chorus of committed participants, who have faithfully pursued learning the music throughout the ever-changing minefields of Covid restrictions, determined to keep the show on the road.

It takes a town to make an opera is a new short film, made with Red Kite Films, documenting the joy of taking part in the our ‘people’s opera’. Despite being thrown off course by the pandemic, the power of music remains. Filmed in Hastings, St. Leonards and Bexhill in December 2020, it also features footage from the rehearsal performance at the De La Warr Pavilion in 2019.

People’s commitment speaks volumes for the music

Barefoot Opera’s artistic director Jenny Miller has been thrilled that so many people have been involved with the project since the outset, including young people like Justin Greenland and Bexhill College student Poppy Martin. “The commitment they have shown speaks volumes for the music, and the rich rewards of taking part in a professional production”, she says.

Hastings local Peter Crouch, who sings in the chorus as a fisherman, describes Bloom Britannia as “a fabulous operatic romp!” And the icing on the cake, he says, is that “it will be performed by real people with real lives guided, encouraged and led by professional artists and hopefully watched by a really mixed audience”.

Photo: Janet Hodgson

Jenny Miller approached composer Orlando Gough to develop the opera, drawn to his reputation for bringing together influences from pop, jazz and world music, something she felt would really suit a music project based in Hastings – which, as we know, is a town with a rich and diverse musical heritage. “At the same time, he can write a tune that stays in your head”, she says.

Librettist Stephen Plaice brings his wit and flexibility to the project, (he describes the opera as “Carmen, with lobsters”), whilst award-winning director Polly Graham, who Miller describes as a “natural” in working with community groups and people of all ages, brings a youthful energy and dynamism to the production. And with Christopher Stark, principal conductor of the Multi-Story Orchestra, conducting, Miller assures us that audiences can expect a production that has flair, intelligence and humour in equal measure.

The professional cast includes singers and musicians based in East Sussex, including long-term Barefoot collaborators Chiara Vinci, Bev Lee Harling and Tom Clarkson, as well as several award-winning singers from further afield and Glastonbury favourite Lekiddo.

Jenny Miller deep in conversation with composer Orlando Gough and the children/young people taking part in the show Photo Janet Hodgson

Cast comments

“I am relieved and happy that we have achieved this musical run-through of our big, brand new community opera – the participants for which have persevered against all the Covid odds. This will help our dream – to actually perform this opus in the autumn –  much more possible.  It is all down to real love and dedication from the 70 singers in the room and many, many more besides.” Jenny Miller

“Marvellous. Just singing and the sound of all the voices. Very enjoyable rehearsing and very rewarding when we get there. These are real professionals – conducting, singing, training, the pianist – just quality. It’s such a complex piece of work – and so needed.” Nick W (participant)

 “Jenny has sweated blood over this intensely, bringing real and living experience of opera to the community. Opera has a reputation of being remote, esoteric, upper class. Jenny is re-charging opera, making it fully accessible to people – and making it exciting.” Rosie Miller, sister to Jenny, singer with The Hastings Philharmonic.

“This is something musical that I’ve never been involved with before… very inspiring. I’m used to folk and pop/rock choirs… this is classical, people’s classical.” Nick (participant)

“Very inspiring to work with these professional people.” Gill (participant)

“What a great advantage – professional training, courtesy of the Arts Council and everyone involved.” Lin (participant)

 “It’s my first day here [on the live project] today… it’s really exciting to hear. There’s lots to do – great to get started this way. I’m going to be needed in the fall when we rehearse and perform… that’s when my real direct work with the project starts.” Callie (assistant director)

Orlando Gough deep in conversation with the conductor Christopher Stark during rehearsals Photo Janet Hodgson

Affordable tickets

Tickets, priced from a very affordable £10 to £25 are now on sale for the three performances that will take place from 22 – 24 October at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings, slap bang in the middle of the seafront – you could say, exactly where it belongs! You can buy tickets on the Barefoot Opera website or from Hastings Tourist Office.

 Wish you were in it? There’s still time to take part!

Whilst it has taken a lot of commitment and focus to follow this project through entirely, Jenny Miller wants to let people know that there are still opportunities to take part in Bloom Britannia in a more low-key way, meaning they can have the amazing experience of being in a once in a lifetime show, without bending a busy schedule drastically out of shape. You only need to contact bloom@barefootopera.com to find out more.

www.barefootopera.com

The conductor Christopher Stark, founder and principal conductor of Peckham’s brilliant Multi-Story Orchestra Photo Janet Hodgson

PROFESSIONAL CAST

Mayor Nick Morris
Pauline Alice Privett
Cassie Marcia Bellamy
Queen Vic Chiara Vinci
Serge Laurence Panter
Ellie Abigail Kelly
Mervyn Laurence Panter
Nusha Chiara Vinci
Dustin Gwion Thomas
Jackie Simone Ibbett-Brown
Wally Gwion Thomas
Apple Jonny Patrick Kealey
Street Sweeper Jenny Miller
Busker 1 Bev Lee Harling
Busker 2 TBC
Busker 3 TBC
Street Sweeper Jenny Miller
Hen-Bella Simone Ibbett- Brown

 

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Posted 07:16 Thursday, Aug 12, 2021 In: Music & Sound

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