Opera Holland Park (OHP) has announced details of a new commission and world premiere for 2023. Itch is a new opera for families and younger audiences from composer Jonathan Dove and librettist Alasdair Middleton.

The opera is based on radio DJ Simon Mayo’s bestselling young adult novels Itch and Itch Rocks. Its hero is Itchingham Holte, a young scientist – described by Mayo as a “teenage element hunter” – known as Itch on a mission to collect all the elements in the periodic table.

Itch explores the real-life magic of the elements through an explosive adventure story that sees the young hero trying to outrun a vindictive teacher, a global corporation and a shadowy government agency in his quest to save the world. The books were written for Mayo’s then 14-year-old son, who, says the radio DJ, was only interested in science at the time.

“I wanted to write a book where the magic was real, where the magic was based in science,” Mayo commented. “I wanted to make something that was grounded but still spectacular. The periodic table is something that really is dangerous. One of the reasons you can’t collect all the elements is that it’s illegal. It’s illegal to own radioactive elements.”

In his quest, Itch discovers a new element. At first no one believes him, but element 126 is a rock of extraordinary power, and soon others are after it. In the wrong hands, the new element could cause terrible damage to the planet. In the right hands, however, it could do great things, but despite this Itch decides he has to return the element to the earth.

Mayo continued: “The thing that appeals to Itch is that if you’re collecting the periodic table, you are collecting life itself because everything in the universe and every other universe is made from these fundamental building blocks and I just thought that was so exciting it would make a great story.”

Commissioned by Opera Holland Park to premiere in 2023, the new work is still in progress. It brings together the long-term creative collaboration of Dove and librettist Middleton, who have worked together on five operas. Dove said of their partnership: “Every opera we’ve written has been different and this is clearly going to be different from anything we’ve done and that’s very exciting.

“It dawned on me that there’s an echo of Wagner’s Ring in that there’s this great element that comes from the depths and eventually has to return to the depths. That is deeply operatic. It’s a story of intense feelings and that is where opera thrives. There’s a kind of magic and wonder in the power of the elements. Especially this new element.

“I love that collision of, on the one hand, something that’s really spectacular – the image of the elements, the periodic table – and on the other hand someone so unlikely, he’s not at all an obvious hero; he’s a young man, he’s a bit of a loner, a bit of a geek. The first thing we see is he’s just had his eyebrows blown off in an uncontrolled experiment at home. Yet he ends up on a mission to save the planet and is prepared to make an extreme sacrifice to do that so he becomes a hero.”

James Clutton, CEO and director of Opera Holland Park, said: “I am thrilled to commission a new opera from Jonathan and Alasdair, especially as we emerge from the difficulties of the last two years.

“When I read Simon’s novel I was immediately struck by the potential to create something truly exciting for the stage. After the great success of our 2013 commission for children, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Todd, 2012), it gives me enormous pleasure to be commissioning a work that will appeal to everyone, young and old.”

In order to bring this opera to the stage, OHP is seeking support. To find out more about how you can bring Itch to life, you can contact Rosamund Hatfield on rosamund.hatfield@operahollandpark.com. Further details of the opera will be revealed as work progresses; information will be available from Opera Holland Park.

Mayo added: “The more I hear John and Alistair talk about it, the more excited I get about it. I want everyone to come to this show. It is for everybody.”



Itch is a brand new opera by composer Jonathan Dove and librettist Alasdair Middleton, in which a teenage element hunter has to save the world.