County Durham community opera now online

Published: 18 December 2020
Reporter: Peter Lathan

Song of our Heartland filmed with communities in County Durham
Early pre-COVID rehearsal Credit: Graeme Rowatt

Song of Our Heartland, a community opera for County Durham created with Opera North, is streaming online free of charge.

Devised and performed by residents of County Durham, Song of Our Heartland is one of the Company’s largest ever community projects. Written by Durham-born composer Will Todd, with a storyline by Caroline Clegg and libretto by Emma Jenkins, it was originally due to première at Locomotion in Shildon in May. When it became clear that this would no longer be possible, the decision was taken to digitise the project, recording all the different elements separately before piecing them together to create the final version, an hour-long film.

First the soundtrack was recorded by the Orchestra of Opera North and, a month later, it was the turn of the Opera North Chorus, with everyone performing under the restrictions posed by 'social distancing'. Towards the end of August, the community and youth choirs and community soloists were recorded in small groups of no more than two households in Shildon, before being joined by ten members of the Chorus of Opera North to act out their parts at Locomotion.

“Despite all the challenges we encountered due to the pandemic,” Jacqui Cameron, Opera North's Education Director, said, “we were determined that Song of Our Heartland, an inspirational community opera created by the people of County Durham to reflect their history, heritage and aspirations, would come to fruition. It is a testament to the hard work and creativity of all those involved that we were able to create the resulting film in such a short space of time under such unusual circumstances. We are truly delighted that we are able to share it as this unforgettable year draws to a close, not only with the local communities who took part, but also with everyone who chooses to watch the film online.

“This year has been difficult for so many people, and Opera North has been determined throughout to adapt as creatively as we can and to continue to bring music to as many people as we can digitally.”

Set in a town marked by a declining local industry and loss of civic spaces, the result is both a love letter to the landscape, heritage and people of the area and an act of storytelling by three generations of indomitable women.

Following the death of Harold, a former miner and railwayman, Song of Our Heartland shines a light on his family, his wife Lilian, daughter Jacqueline and granddaughter Skylar, as they face a stark choice between moving away to find jobs and new opportunities or staying put to face an uncertain future. Forced to remain by Harold’s death and driven by her grandad’s spirit, Skylar fights to save the things which are most important to her: the school choir and the abandoned Moonlight Ballroom Theatre.

Song of Our Heartland is available for immediate streaming on the Opera North On Demand web page.