Friday 20 January 2017

Looking ahead: ETO's Silver Electra

ETO - Silver Electra
Each year English Touring Opera (ETO) commissions a new opera for children and families, to tour alongside their main stage programme. For the last few years, the composer Russell Hepplewhite has teamed up with ETO's head of education, Tim Yealland, to create works as varied and as complex as Laika the Spacedog, Borka the Goose with no feathers and Shackleton's Cat. This year Hepplewhite and Yealland have written Silver Electra, the first ever opera about the aviator Amelia Earhart, who went missing in her silver Electra plane when she was approaching the final leg of her round the world flight in 1937. Neither Earhart nor her plane were ever found.

The opera is directed by Tim Yealland, designed by Jude Mundon and conducted by Jack Ridley (the recipient of Garsington's 2016 Leonard Ingrams award). Hepplewhite's score uses violin, viola, keyboard and a huge range of percussion (much of it hand made), and there are four singing roles. Each is double cast with Vanessa Bowers, Alison Manifold, Amanda Wagg, Susan Moore, Alexander Vearey-Roberts, Dominic Walsh, Felix Kemp and Henry Neil. The opera opens in London on 30 January 2017 and tours extensively until 16 June 2017, some of the performances are for schools only by there are many open to the public.

Hepplewhite and Yealland's previous operas have dealt with complex subjects in inventive ways including such weighty ideas as the death of the protagonist (the cat in Shackleton's Cat), or accepting difference (a goose with no feathers). For Silver Electra, the plot weaves a number of strands which are linked in a tantalising manner. There is Amelia Earhart, her flight and her planes in 1937, and there is a family in 1970s Australia complete with memory loss in an old woman Milly, and problems with her grandson Noah running away from home.

And of course, there will be music and songs. At previous performances I have been impressed with the way the young children turned up knowing music to the tricky songs (Hepplewhite certainly does not write down to his audiences), and singing lustily. No doubt this year's audiences will do the same.

Further information from the English Touring Opera website.

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