Deptford meets opera in The Albany Street Opera

James Redwood - Photo by Robert Day Work is underway on The Albany Street Opera, a music project that is engaging a diverse group of Deptford locals and will culminate in the unveiling of a brand new opera created by the participants with the help of award-winning composers and musicians. Creative Producer Rachel Nelken tells us more about this ambitious project.

I’ve been involved with the Albany for some years. I was lucky enough to spend some time on the Board of Trustees from 2010-2012, and have been working in the community as an arts and music producer for many years in this part of South-East and Outer London. I’d always been intrigued by the unusual model of the Albany with its resident community and arts organisations – all living and working alongside each other but not necessarily with each other – or even ever meeting. So, about a year ago I had a crazy idea of seeing if we could bring some of the different groups together to make some new music and theatre. I went to talk to Gavin Barlow, the Albany’s CEO, about the idea, and the Albany community opera project was born!

Further discussion with Gavin and Raidene Carter, Head of Creative Programmes, led to us identifying key organisations who could take part in the project. We wanted a real range of ages and backgrounds and chose organisations Entelechy Arts, Heart n Soul, Lewisham Music Education Hub, Deptford Green School, Uncover Theatre Company, the Central Afghanistan and Asian Association and local primary schools.

Our next job was to find the right musical director for the project. It had to be someone who was not only a great composer but who had the energy and enthusiasm for working with a real range of people, and getting them to collaborate together to create their own music and story – especially as we knew some participants would be completely new to the experience. After much searching and some great recommendations we chose award-winning composer James Redwood, who was awarded the prestigious RPS British Composer Award for his community and education work in 2013. When it came to a ‘dramaturg’ – to work with the groups to create the story – we then chose Hazel Gould following many recommendations – whose opera ‘We are Shadows’ had won that same award the year before.

Singing and performance will be a big part of this project and we have two fantastic vocal leaders as part of the creative team – Abimaro Gunnell who already works regularly with the Albany, and Freya Wynn-Jones who has an extensive background in this work and is a theatre Director herself.

The project came to the attention of anti-poverty campaigner and Big Issue Founder John Bird. His book ‘The Necessity of Poverty’ written in 2012, with its themes of collective transformation and ‘people power’ will help to inspire the creative team and they devise some story lines with the participants.

This first year is the ‘research and development’ phase of a longer-term project, and we hope to work towards a fully staged opera production featuring local performers alongside professionals in the next couple of years. Participants for this stage in the project will range in age from 5 to 90 and will be given the chance to contribute musical or narrative ideas through a series of workshops taking place in and around the Albany throughout June and July 2014.

Key events include a ‘Sharing session’ on 21 June for all participants to meet, share their work and learn a song together, and a ‘work-in-progress’ public performance of all the work created by participants will take place on Saturday 19 July at 5pm. Come and join us and see what we’ve been up to – we’d love to see you there and you too will play a part in this exciting project!

We are really grateful that this project has been supported by the Merry Trust, Arts Council England and the PRS for Music Foundation.

Rachel Nelken, Creative Producer, The Albany Street Opera project

For more information about The Albany Street Opera and to book tickets to the performance on 19 July, click here.

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