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Britain’s first new opera since lockdown to be performed live to an audience

"The characters capture the defiance and solidarity that we have all experienced during these strange times"

The only new opera commissioned since lockdown features the work of three talented graduates of St John's and will be the first to be performed live onstage with an audience. 

A Feast in the Time of Plague will be performed by Grange Park Opera on 13 September in The Theatre in the Woods at West Horsley Place estate, Surrey, to an invited audience.

The opera was composed by award-winning British composer Alex Woolf, St John’s Music undergraduate 2013-2016, and the libretto was written by opera giant Sir David Pountney, Chorister 1956-1961 and undergraduate 1966-69. The opera also features baritone Sir Simon Keenlyside, Chorister 1967-72 and undergraduate and Choral Scholar 1980-83.

Simon Keenlyside
Sir Simon Keenlyside plays Antoine in A Feast in the Time of Plague. Credit: Richard Lewisohn

As well as Johnians, the cast of virtuoso performers includes ‘Go Compare’ singer Wynne Evans, and soprano Susan Bullock who has appeared several times at Covent Garden.

The opera will be filmed and later streamed for free so that is it available for everyone to view online.

A Feast in the Time of Plague, based on Alexander Pushkin’s 1830 fragment of the same title and one of four Little Tragedies, will be the first to be performed in front a live audience inside a theatre since lockdown, and audience members will be seated in household groups and private boxes.

Wasfi Kani OBE, Grange Park Opera founder, said: “We are taking the utmost precautions. The five levels of the Theatre in the Woods normally seats more than 700 people. It means that the 250 audience members will each have a volume of air of 31 cubic metres – considerably more than a half-full plane to Greece upon which 100 passengers have a mere 2.34 cubic metres. In my view it’s time we all got moving again, and I don’t mean flying to Greece.”

Pountney developed the libretto in Wales when in lockdown and completed it in June, and Alex Woolf, described by Gramaphone magazine as “a major presence in starry company”, completed the score in six weeks.

“I responded to Pushkin’s little fragment by creating 12 – because of the Last Supper – very varied characters ­who arrive voluntarily and most of whom depart involuntarily – i.e. they die,” said Pountney. “In between they capture the defiance and solidarity that we have all experienced during these strange times. The virus exposes truths about all of us in surprising ways. A Feast in the Time of Plague captures this – as well as the essential lesson that we must carry on laughing.”

For more information about A Feast in the Time of Plague and updates on the livestream, visit the Grange Park Opera website or follow @grangeparkopera on social media.

Published: 3/9/2020

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