Hastings, St Leonards and Bexhill combine for new people's opera

After years in the planning and a pandemic postponement, the new people’s opera Bloom Britannia will bring together people across the generations from Hastings, St Leonards and Bexhill.

In rehearsal
In rehearsal

The mass chorus in the Barefoot Opera production will join a professional cast for an affectionate, comic opera bringing together influences from folk, pop and jazz – an opera, but not as you know it, they promise.

The promise is a “hilarious, raucous, challenging, action-packed, thrilling production celebrating the joy of singing, music and creativity.”

Performances will be at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings on Friday, October 22 at 7.30pm; Saturday, October 23 at 7.30pm; and Sunday, October 24 at 4pm. Brighton-based composer Orlando Gough and Brighton-based librettist Stephen Plaice are behind the piece which will be directed by Polly Graham under artistic director Jenny Miller. Live music will come from the Barefoot Band, led by Lesley Anne Sammons, with accordion, violin, double bass and ukulele. Singers from Hastings Philharmonic Choir, Sound Waves Community Choir, Opera South East, vocal groups She Choir Hastings, Rattlebag and Now and Then will be there, alongside participants from Arts On Prescription and The Seaview Project and pupils from Dudley Infants School and The Hastings Academy, with tickets priced from £10.

The idea is the story of one extraordinary day in the life of a seaside town, told by the people who live there. The setting is the fictional coastal town of Melhaven. Festivities – both official and unofficial – have been planned to impress the judges of a national competition.

Janet Hodgson, of Barefoot Opera, said: “It all really began in 2016 when the composer Orlando Gough worked on a project in Hastings with Barefoot Opera called Clash, and it was such a brilliant project that Jenny Miller invited him to work on creating a whole piece inspired by Hastings and by all the seaside towns on the south coast.”

Librettist Stephen Plaice became involved

“We sat down and had a brainstorming session about the ways to make it happen, and it just grew from there,” Janet says. “We had a year of initial development where we didn’t know what the opera would be, but the idea evolved of a day in the life of a seaside town. We had workshops. After this development year they went off and developed the whole piece called Bloom Britannia which became much more of a narrative set in this fictional town where there is lots of hedonism and escapism and a lot of fun but where there is also friction and a lot of problems.

“They developed this story about this fictional town going through a regeneration bid, and it is all set on the day when the result of this bid will be announced. There are all the groups that have certain views whether they want it to happen or they don’t want it to happen. It is like when anything new happens there is a lot of debate about it. And it is all set on this amazing day for the town, a rollercoaster ride, an opera looking at this important day and all the different backgrounds colliding.

“We had our first year of development and then in April 2019 we staged what we called Act One which was like a testing bed at the De La Warr Pavilion and then we were going to bring the opera, fully developed and fully written, to the stage in 2020. We were all set to launch it on March 21 2020 which was actually the day the lockdown was announced. We were going to announce a new call-out for singers. But we managed to keep the project alive doing little socially-distanced events over the summer of last year, but it has been a huge challenge.

“I think it was pretty much in the late spring this year that we decided that this was going to happen this year. We have all been slightly holding our breath.

“It has been quite tense!

“But in the early stages, people have been looking at the full opera since about March, initially all on Zoom, which was difficult. But everyone stayed with it. There is a real hard-core group of people that have been determined to stay involved throughout.”

Tickets on https://barefootopera.com/shop/bloom-britannia/