Until the next time

We have finished the first phase of public performances of Opera for the Unknown Woman. We toured the show to four different UK locations and presented 13 performances. We hope to bring you news of it happening again in the future. For now here are some reactions to it:

Audiences:

I have to say I thought the show was brilliant! The women performing were so diverse and I was blown away by their voices and musical talent. It was such a strong and powerful piece and I loved how you used the multimedia projections as well.

I liked the show – it’s a rare treat and great to see some science/speculative fiction on stage, and something treating the environmental crisis with real dramatic ambition as well as serious

The more they sang, the more their voices drifted me away into a land of the unknown. The lady in the ball told a story.  She told everyone in the audience that women have more rights than people think they do, she told everyone that women could be more than who they are. It was a really moving message. Louise aged 10

The creator of this fantastic piece is Melanie Wilson and hopefully she will make more pieces as awesome as this. I recommend every adult and teenager should see this breath-taking performance as it was very cool and the graphics on the curtains were incredible. Abigail aged 10

It was inspiring that the piece dares to dream so big – we so rarely see stories of this epic scale and it feels timely.

I really, really enjoyed seeing the opera last week. In fact, it felt like a real privilege to be there for its first performance in London. I’m trying to keep the feeling of inspiration, political energy and hope going – especially on the eve of the referendum. 

I really did admire the challenge you all undertook with the work and the ambition of the thematics you explored  – and of course it is so pleasing to see a large female ensemble on stage, as sadly that is all too rare.

Press:

Demanding work is seen as anathema to the accessibility, entertainment and instant gratification deemed necessary to attract and placate audiences. But I resist that, and so does Melanie, committing herself instead to sculpting new forms for performance, and creating space for different stories about women. It’s certainly a song for action, though, for global feminism to unify against the patriarchal structures that are relentlessly destroying life on earth. Maddy Costa, journalist, blogger and Theatre Club host in Cardiff.

Innovative feminist sci-fi opera with sound and video design to match. The Stage ****

Visually, it’s marvellous…The piece’s ambitious attempt, it seems to me, is to enable a different mode of conversation, to harness a different form of attention to what it goes without saying are vastly important ideas. And it seems to be trying to perform the alternative way of being that it proposes – to inhabit a space that’s simultaneously powerful and gentle, clear and complex. Total Theatre

The creative team:

The performance itself was very moving to be in, especially the final performance on ‘Brexit’ day for which the words felt very important. The time we spent building up a really strong ensemble was excellent and really mirrored the sentiment of the piece. I have always felt strongly about what it means to be a woman but being involved in the piece and working with Melanie’s wonderful words has been very inspiring and has made me think even more about how women are viewed and what women’s contribution to society is/should be/perceived to be…It’s been very though provoking stuff.

I was very inspired by the integrity of this project. The ideas were sophisticated, complex and the desire to undertake an in depth investigation of the material dealt with was unusual and clearly relevant in the world in the world we live in. The platform and the space that this project offered people to collaborate, reflect express and provoke seemed to me as important, if not more, than the final product itself.

FuelPhotos by Karen Robinson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Join Jenny to chat about ‘a stunning visual feast’ Friday 24th June from 6pm

Blog post from Jennifer Goodman, Local Engagement Specialist, Huddersfield.

Just back from seeing Opera for the Unknown Woman at The Lawrence Batley Theatre as part of Yorkshire Festival. 

The initial impression is of a stunning visual feast – the set is simple and stark but the digital backdrops swoop you across starlit skies, deserts, universes and carry the faces and voices of the beings from the future, reaching out across time to try and change the future of the cosmos. 

The second impression is of luscious, startling, powerful voices – weaving together soaring classical vocals with the edgy, micro-tonal singers from Eastern Europe and the Middle East and the rich, earthy timbres of the women representing Africa and the Caribbean. Alongside the solo arias are moments when the chorus of voices reach into your gut and heart and make you catch your breath. But at the centre of all this is the poignant plight of Aphra – the lone woman survivor in a world devastated by ecological disaster 300 years in the future. Isolated above the stage she sends out a repeated plea for help and her solo at the core of the show is a delicate, plaintive but lyrical voice in the wilderness. As the group of women in the present, all activists in their own right and based on real women, debate and grapple with how to make the changes needed to divert disaster, the audience are asked to ponder the issues and solutions for themselves. 

There is real power is seeing and hearing a group of women centre stage within the structures of opera – although this is opera as you will never have experienced it before – and as the story reaches it’s conclusion their voices are joined by those of a Welsh male voice choir, the male and female harmonies combining to offer a lifeline to their daughter in time in her aloneness as the set is suddenly drenched in colour.


I stayed for the Q & A afterwards – a fascinating opportunity to hear the influences, inspirations and thoughts of the artistic team and cast – and to hear the impact being in the show has had on their own actions and lives.

Do go and see the show – a visual, musical treat with a thought-provoking core. It’s on tomorrow and Friday. I will be back again on Friday and if you’d like to join me for drinks and nibbles and the chance to chat to the Musical Director, I’ll be in the Upper Bar from 6pm.

Book here for the show at 7.30pm on Thurs 23rd and Friday 24th June at the Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield as part of the Yorkshire Festival

“Opera” at Yorkshire Festival

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“Opera for the Unknown Woman” will be opening at the Lawrence Batley Theatre as part of Yorkshire Festival 2016 tonight. We’re excited to bring this show to the communities in Yorkshire.

Organized by the Welcome to Yorkshire Board and led by Artistic Director Matt Burman, Yorkshire Festival is a biennial celebration of the arts with shows, events and exhibitions.

This year, it is running from 16 June to 3 July in various locations across the county of Yorkshire, giving opportunity to Yorkshire people and companies to participate and present the best international work to residents and visitors alike. There is also an associate programme listing that will showcase the breadth of the arts across Yorkshire between 16 June and 3 July.

For more information on Yorkshire Festival 2016, follow them on Facebook /yorkshirefestival and/or Twitter @YorkshireFest.

http://festival.yorkshire.com

Writing and conversations

As we enter the final week of touring for Opera for the Unknown Woman we’d like to share some of the brilliant and thought-provoking thinking and writing that people have been doing about the project.

You can read the excellent Maddy Costa’s blog post here. She talks eloquently about the challenges of Melanie’s work:

‘demanding work is seen as anathema to the accessibility, entertainment and instant gratification deemed necessary to attract and placate audiences. But I resist that, and so does she, committing herself instead to sculpting new forms for performance, and creating space for different stories about women.’

and she calls it:

‘a song for action… for global feminism to unify against the patriarchal structures that are relentlessly destroying life on earth. That destruction registers individually and socially, in poverty, military aggression, and xenophobia in all its fear-of-the-other guises; and it registers ecologically, in the depletion of resources and degradation of land and atmosphere.’

and speaks about hope:

‘There was a bit of me astonished by its blatant, unapologetic articulation of feminist and left-wing politics: where was the BBC-mandated counterbalance of climate-change scepticism? Where was the toning down for people who don’t want to feel preached at? She is invigoratingly forthright in this piece: environmental catastrophe is real and it’s here and we don’t have time to wait for someone else to deal with it. That sense of urgency can be a source of fear on the one hand, depression on the other, but there’s a wonderful line in the libretto that says (quoting roughly): saving humanity is the work of a generation. The hope in that line is heartening.’

The Stage called it ‘an innovative feminist sci-fi opera with sound and video design to match’ and their reviews editor Natasha Tripney chose it as part of her picks of the week this week.

Total Theatre talks about the brilliant ensemble: ‘Wilson’s culturally diverse ensemble, gifted with some extraordinary voices whose individuality is celebrated in some virtuosic arias, move about the stage like planets orbiting an invisible sun.’

The Cusp Magazine says ‘Melanie Wilson’s debut opera tackles with conviction issues which many opera directors would balk at. And in light of recent events, its central message of progressive change through non-violent ‘affinity and resistance’ is surely more needed than ever.’

Some audience responses:

‘Still thinking about Opera for the Unknown Woman. I feel at the moment I want all performance to be unapologetically  big hearted and urgent.’

‘Recommend this with all my heart. Cried lots, not because it was sad; because it was strong.’

And finally Melanie Wilson writes passionately on The Guardian’s music blog  about why she wanted to make the show and this week the newspaper’s theatre reviewer Lyn Gardner chose it as one of her ‘top tickets’.

 

Warwick University Student Ambassador preview: Opera for the Unknown Woman

by Maddie Flower on 18 May 2016

Walking into Fuel’s rehearsal space, the first thing noticeable is the female dominated room, something which Louise Blackwell informs me was a conscious choice. However, she says the fact that I noticed it highlights a problem in the industry: that a female dominated room is unusual enough to be noticed. “It’s not a niche”, says Louise, “This is just the world. We wanted to make a statement that it is possible! We’ve made these choices, so you can too”.

The performance itself has an empowering feminist narrative, promoting a feeling of sisterhood. Many songs convey the idea of viewing women and their role differently, particularly rejecting the “natural” role that society routinely tells women they should fulfil. As well as this, the cast is highly diverse, which, again, is another thing which should not be surprising and yet so often is. Melanie Wilson wrote the opera so that the “group of women from around the world” would actually comprise of one woman from every continent, diversifying an art form, which is so often reserved for mainly white, upper class individuals. The mix of different cultural music styles and the sci-fi genre juxtaposes the traditional concept of the opera, creating something unique and illuminating the concepts of partnership and friendship, concepts that can sometimes be forgotten in contemporary society.

As a reflection of this ideal, Louise assures me that Fuel want to change the traditional idea of the theatre as somewhere where you have to dress up, somewhere that can be inaccessible if you are not rich, if you are young. “We want to showcase the possibilities of re-imagining spaces, for both artists and theatre companies. Artists say important things about the world, from many different perspectives. We try to push boundaries between the art and the audience.” When asked about the inspiration for the staging, Louise tells me that a big inspiration for the team was Beyonce’s stage projections, accentuating their commitment to modernising and diversifying the theatre experience.

Another message important for Melanie and Louise to communicate through the opera is that of environmental stewardship. Opera for the Unknown Woman follows the story of women struggling to survive the wrath of a dying planet, not only highlighting the importance of sisterhood but the importance of togetherness when it comes to environmental change. Louise tells me that the performance is a “manifesto for change, a call-to-arms, inspiring audiences to work together and act on climate change”. She goes on to describe how we are at “a tipping point with climate change”, and how even small actions can go a long way.

The performance itself is inspiring and empowering. Classical opera is expertly weaved together with distorted voiceovers, traditional African call-and-response singing, shouting and, on the other end of the spectrum, synchronised breathing. Louise informs me of Melanie’s focus on voice and sound in the performance and how she wanted to build on solo work, again to maintain the idea of working and acting together, as a community.

Although Fuel did not choose to make the moral messages of the performance their key selling point, it would certainly have provided a grip on an otherwise ambiguous piece. Opera for the Unknown Woman is an inspiring piece, but could motivate a wider range of people if these messages were clear. The motivation of not emphasising moral messages because they should be normalised in society is interesting, as the difference between should and are is currently quite significant. Nonetheless, the unique blend of classical and modern style, diversity and social instruction showcased in the performance is unparalleled. You will walk away speechless, yet inspired to work with your peers to make a change.

“Opera” at Cardiff’s Festival of Voice

Wales Millennium Centre’s Festival of Voice has been created to celebrate Wales’ timeless connection with song and the positive effects singing together can have on peoples’ wellbeing, whether participating or listening and observing.  Rooted in the unique locations and community of our capital, it is the city’s first international festival, a landmark moment in the cultural life of Wales since devolution fifteen years ago.

Until now, there hasn’t been a festival in the UK that focuses purely on ‘the voice’ as something that transcends culture and language. It’s primal; it brings us together whether we’re happy or melancholy, and WMC have created the festival as a way of bottling that pure emotion. When you hear a great voice you project emotion onto what can be a deeply personal and intimate experience – this is somehow different from an instrumental performance, as we assume that what we hear is part of the performer, coming deep from within.

Festival of Voice is an opportunity for Wales to celebrate the thing it’s best known for: singing, but in a format that’s outward looking and that celebrates the future as well as the past.

“Opera for the Unknown Woman” fits snugly into this celebration of the best of what it means to be human and too exist alongside one another in the world, united through the purest form of expression.

Find out more about Festival of Voice, and the other amazing performances happening June 2016 in Cardiff here.

Maddy Costa’s Theatre Club: Saturday 11 June after the 4.30pm show

Welcome to Dialogue Theatre Club – the post show discussion with a difference. It works like a book group: no one involved in making the show is present, instead you share thoughts on what you saw with other audience members over nibbles and drinks. Hosted by blogger and critic Maddy Costa (Guardian, Exeunt), Theatre Club welcomes all opinions: whether you loved the show or hated it, felt excited or bored, this is the place to talk about it.

The next Theatre Club us on Saturday 11 June at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff after the 4.30pm show of Melanie Wilson’s multi-media sci-fi piece, Opera for the Unknown Woman. See the show in your own time then join us in the bar at approximately 5.45pm.

There is a special ticket offer for the 4.30pm show on Friday 11 June – email info@fueltheatre.com for more details.

Photo credit: Karen Robinson

Fuel

 

More gorgeous production shots

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Today we can release some more fantastic images by Karen Robinson. Karen came to Warwick Arts Centre and took these shots during the dress rehearsal. We hope you like them – do share as they give a good insight into what the show will be. Come along in Cardiff, London or Huddersfield and see the finished article for yourself.

New opportunties

Producing theatre throws up brilliant challenges and opportunities on a fairly regular basis. Just a week before rehearsals began one of the performers had to withdraw because of family reasons. We did a final search for the performer who could play the character of Obax and happily we found the excellent Alexia McIntosh.

Then we were unexpectedly offered the opportunity to present the show in London at the Platform Theatre, Central Saint Martin’s, just behind King’s Cross train station. It was a chance too good to miss and so we have mounted a crowdfunding campaign to help us cover the cost of this new opportunity.

#OperationOpera has ten days left to hit the target. 8 brilliant people have supported the campaign so far. Can you help us by spreading the word and/or donating to the campaign?

Here’s the link to the fundraising campaign.

Thanks in advance for your help.

Fuel

Photo by Karen Robinson

 

Images from the show

Last week the show opened at Warwick Arts Centre in Coventry. A huge thank you goes out to all the staff there who helped us get the show up and running. Here are some images from the photo shoot we did there with the brilliant Karen Robinson. We are continuing to work on the show this week ready for our performances at Wales Millennium Centre’s Festival of Voice from 8 – 11th June. See you there.