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Community opera celebrates County Durham

The people of County Durham will be celebrated this May when a new community opera, Song of our Heartland, premieres at Locomotion, the railway museum in Shildon.

Commissioned by Northern Heartlands, the Great Place scheme for County Durham, the opera is one of Opera North’s most ambitious community projects to date. Tickets for the event have gone on sale today and are available from Locomotion.

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Opera North community opera rehearsals at Locomotion in County Durham. © Graeme Rowatt

Written by Durham-born composer Will Todd, the new opera has been developed in partnership with residents from south and west County Durham, a region with a strong heritage in mining and railway industries, as well as upland hill-farming.

A cast from Opera North and singers from the community has been rehearsing since January. Mentorship schemes in directing, costume, lighting and front of house skills are also being offered to local people as the show takes shape.

Rehearsing Song of our Heartland with composer Will Todd © Graeme Rowatt

To capture the true spirit of the place and the voice of its people, a series of music, poetry and drama workshops took place throughout 2019 in Teesdale, Weardale, Bishop Auckland, Shildon and the ‘Three Towns’ area of Durham, inspiring participants of all ages to share their experiences with the creative team. Their rich and diverse stories of cultural legacy, tradition and local life were subsequently fashioned into a libretto by Emma Jenkins which explores strength and community, hopes and dreams.

Set in a town marked by declining local industry and loss of civic spaces, Song of our Heartland is both a love letter to the landscape, the heritage and the people of the area, and an act of storytelling by three generations of indomitable women: Lilian, her daughter Jacqueline and her granddaughter Skylar, as they face a stark choice between moving away to find jobs and new opportunities, or staying in the area and facing an uncertain future.

County Durham residents rehearsing Song of our Heartland © Graeme Rowatt

Directed by Caroline Clegg with set and costume design by Madeleine Boyd, Song of our Heartland will be performed in an immersive style amongst the trains and exhibits at Locomotion. Holly Mathieson will conduct the Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North alongside the newly formed Community Chorus, with solo roles shared between members of the Chorus and the community participants.

“Giving local enthusiasts the opportunity to work with professionals in a specialist area of the arts is one thing but… to be involved fully from inception through to final production is hugely rewarding! Not only that, the project has proved to be fully inclusive, welcoming every and all levels of individuality, ability, mobility and talent.  What a ‘coup’ for Shildon and for this part of Co Durham!”

– Susan Kirkbride, Participant

Workshop rehearsals for the Song of our Heartland © Graeme Rowatt

Song of our Heartland: A community opera will be performed at Locomotion, the railway museum in Shildon, on 29 and 30 May 2020, with performances at 7.15pm and 9pm each day. The running time for each performance is approximately 60 minutes.

Tickets priced at £12.50 (£5 for children and concessions) are on sale now online or via the box office on 01904 685780.

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