Want to be an opera singer?

Published: 20 February 2020
Reporter: Peter Lathan

The Soldier's Return creative team: Marcos Fernandez-Barrero, Jacob Polley, Alison Barton, Annie Rigby and Marco Romano Credit: Northern News and Pictures
Alison Barton, Opera Sunderland Artistic Director Credit: Northern News and Pictures
Librettist Jacob Polley Credit: Northern News and Pictures

Sunderland people are being offered the chance to take part in a new opera, The Soldier’s Return, which is based on present day veterans’ real life experiences and will be performed at The Point in the city in June. Drawn from interviews with local people involved in past, recent and ongoing combat situations, it explores the impact of conflict when soldiers return home.

Anyone interested can take part in a free Experience Opera Taster Day at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens from 10:00 to 3:00 on Sunday 8 March.

Opera Sunderland, previously known as Music in the Minster, is keen to involve as many people as possible.

“We have tonnes of talent here in Sunderland, so we hope lots of people will sign up to give opera a go”, said Alison Baton, Sunderland-born opera singer and Opera Sunderland Artistic Director. “I really believe anyone can sing, so even if you don’t have any formal training or experience, our friendly team of experts can teach you. What I’d say to anyone who thinks opera’s not for them or that they ‘can’t sing’ is, ‘if you can chant at the Stadium of Light on match day or sing along to the radio in the car, then come and have a go!’”

The new project will be led by Alison Barton, along with international award-winning composer Marcos Fernandez-Barrero, director Annie Rigby and musical director Marco Romano, who were all part of the team which created MIRACLE! An Opera of Two Halves, which premièred in Sunderland in 2015. They are joined by T S Eliot Prize award-winning poet Jacob Polley, who has written the libretto.

“The libretto has been made out of interviews with veterans, of two or three generations,” said Polley. “I was struck by the power of what veterans had to say and the ways they said it. I didn't do much but arrange this material in what I thought was the best shape to evoke the matter and spirit of what we'd heard. That the work we've made is so moving and strong I hope is testament to the experience of those veterans and their willingness to talk to us and take part.”

“I was really struck, in talking to veterans, about how they felt civilians didn’t really understand their experiences,” added director Annie Rigby. “Although we might imagine the experiences of servicemen and women, somehow our imaginations don’t get close to the reality of what it’s like to be on active service, away from home. This opera, built out of the interviews we carried out, aims to explore that distance between home and away, between comradeship and family, and share their experiences with a public audience. I think it’s going to be a really beautiful and special piece.”

The project is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, the Foyle Foundation, Hays Travel, Sir James Knott Trust and The D’Oyly Carte Charitable Trust.

To sign up for the free Experience Opera Taster Day, e-mail [email protected].