The Peasants' Opera - a Herne Hill Premiere on Wednesday Oct 14th!
THE PEASANTS’ OPERA.
The Peasants of a Kentish village, gathered outside the hut of Matilda and Thomas, the village elders.
ACT ONE, OPENING CHORUS
A peasant's life is very hard work;
Each day there're tasks to be done
Now word has come down from the Lord of our land
It's time to bring in the hay.
ACT THREE OPENING CHORUS
We burnt the Palace. We drank the wine.
See how that great house burnt to the ground.
No more Palaces. No more rich Lords.
Freedom for the Peasants. A new dawn for the poor.
Student chorus rehearsal: "Down with the Castle. Down with the gates. Down with the Lords, there's no food on our plates."
Rents going up, local shops forced to close, increasing numbers of protests - be they over the NHS, evictions, or closure of our Carnegie Library! It's all coming thick and fast.
So you'd be forgiven for thinking that the idea of austerity and class divide underscored by one set of rules for some, and another for others, might be at the centre of the Herne Hill Music Festival's latest opera. It is the locally written The Peasants' Opera, which uses the backdrop of the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt, for its essence. Causes for Revolt were manifold: the Black Death, laws to cut wages, and poll taxes to fund the Hundred Years' War.
According to Alan Taylor, the Festival's founder and the opera's composer, The Peasants' Opera tries to show a mass of people who just can’t take it anymore, and the furious debates between them about what it is justified to do in response - from putting up with it, to violence.
He comments: “If people want to draw parallels with events today, that is up to them. My aim was to present a drama arising from the sense of oppression of the mass of common people. I suggest the opera may have relevance to many other times in history and many other places."
Dress rehearsal of The Peasants' Opera
HHMF interest in putting on opera in Herne Hill was first realised in 2013 when the troupe Opera At Home staged the Mozart buffa The Abduction from the Seraglio for the Festival, with limited local choral participation, at Methodist Hall in Half Moon Lane. But the Festival has been getting increasingly "hands on" since and The Peasants' Opera is far more than that first Mozart.
Scene from the 2013 Mozart production at the Methodist Hall
It is the second in a new tradition of Community Operas in the Festival. In 2014 the Festival programmed Noye’s Fludde, which its composer Benjamin Britten largely intended for amateur performers, particularly children. The Peasants' Opera takes things to the next level. It is a completely homegrown production, from music to libretto (with thanks to Buffy Sharpe) and performers, amateurs and professionals working together. It will also be a world premiere - at The Charter School in Herne Hill! The Festival is planning a primary-school opera next year based on the story of The Frankenstein Teacher.
Scenes from the 2014 Britten production at St Faith's Church
Taylor has written two previous operas, most recently Oliver Cromwell: The Musical, which dealt with the political debates on democracy which raged after the English Civil War. He comments on The Peasants’ Opera:
"This has been a great experience as an artist since our team has been working with The Charter School Dulwich for a year to bring about this performance. Pupils form the opera orchestra and the chorus. We held workshops with them in July in which the pupils wrote many of the words which are used in the choruses, so it has been a real collaborative project. The pupils have participated enthusiastically, and really engaged in presenting the sufferings and reactions of people who just can’t take it any more."
Showtime for The Peasants' Opera is 7pm Wednesday Oct 14th at the Charter School in Red Post Hill. For tickets see the Festival website at: http://hernehillfestival.org or visit We Got Tickets at http://www.wegottickets.com/event/332688