Mahogany Opera Company has commissioned a new Snappy Opera in partnership with Sandgate School in Kendal, Cumbria, the Whitehaven-based company has announced.
Snappy Operas is Mahogany Opera’s award-winning schools programme to make and perform new mini-operas with and for primary-aged children. Each opera lasts just 10 minutes and has been specially created for young audiences. Written by some of the UK’s top composers and librettists, the works introduce all the essential elements of opera in fun, colourful and bite-size chunks.
The company has appointed two artists to create the new work: local composer Jack McNeill and Glasgow-based theatremaker Claire Willoughby. They will be working in residency across the school year with more than 150 young people and school staff at Sandgate School to create an inclusive Snappy Opera which will premiere in July 2023.
Class teacher and music lead at the school, Annie Ruscillo commented: “It is really important for us, as a school for young people with a range of communication difficulties and SEND [special educational needs and disability], to focus on what we can do and not what we can’t.
“We are excited beyond words to be embarking on a whole school immersive project, which will give our young people a broad range of creative experiences. Who knows what will be achieved?!”
Further details of the opera are yet to be revealed, but previous works have included Counting Sheep by composer Jamie Man and dramatist Stephen Plaice. Best suited to younger children, it tells the story of a group of children too full of cheese and chocolate to sleep, some sheep for the children to count, and ramblers who aren’t very good at map reading and get everybody confused.
In Teacups & Tentacles, with music by Raymond Yiu and a libretto by Russell Plows, the children are excited because the fair has come to town. However, before they can ride the teacups, hook a duck and consume their favourite fairground treats, power is lost. Disappointment turns to fear when an alien spaceship appears.
Details of these and Mahogany Opera’s other Snappy Operas are all available on the company’s website. Each of the operas comes with a range of useful resources to help educators stage their own Snappy Opera. These include the score, backing tracks, word sheets (librettos) and instructions on how to make props and costumes.
Mahogany Opera is constantly growing its Snappy Operas programme. The company works with partners including local music education hubs, festivals and venues to select schools that would most benefit from involvement in the programme.
As well as an introduction to opera, children gain music and performance skills, improve their confidence and team working, and have the opportunity to express themselves in a new, creative way.
The company fully trains artists to work in school settings and provides Continuing Professional Development to teachers to develop creative approaches to their teaching. The aim, Mahogany Opera said, is to “bring schools and audiences together in venues to create a sense of community through the joy of opera”.
In 2019, Mahogany Opera held its inaugural Snappy Opera Festival and had planned to host a second in 2021. However, coronavirus-related restrictions made this impossible, and instead in June 2021 the company launched The Year of Snappy Operas, which concluded in July 2022.
The company worked with Edinburgh International Festival, Hull Music Service, Leicester-Shire Schools Music Service, North Tyneside Music Education Hub and Villages Music Festival to bring the Snappy Opera programme to schools up and down the country from East Sussex to Edinburgh. This also marked the first time the programme went to Scotland.
Twelve unique Snappy Operas – including two brand new works – were delivered over the year, with a specially trained team of artists – director, music director and répétiteur – working alongside the children and teachers. Around 750 children, aged 7-11, from 21 different schools joined Mahogany Opera in a year of singing, making and theatre.
Mahogany Opera has commissioned a new Snappy Opera – 10-minute works aimed at introducing the artform to young children – to premiere in 2023.