Thursday 26 January 2023

How we come together to understand the legacy of enslavement: Insurrection: A work in progress at the Royal Opera House

Rehearsals for Insurrection (Photo Sama Kai)
Rehearsals for Insurrection (Photo Sama Kai)

The Barbados Rebellion of April 1816 was the largest slave revolt in Barbadian history. It only lasted a few weeks, as the enslaved men and women, who worked on the island’s many estates and plantations, were defeated by the Colonial Militia. What we know about the rebellion largely comes from the victors, the colonialists, the enslaved were rarely, if ever, able to tell their stories. But what we have is their music, the songs they sang.

A new project at the Royal Opera House, Insurrection: A work in progress, explores this story using the folk songs sung by enslaved workers and their descendants, including rebel music banned on plantations due to the fear of hidden messages, British pro-slavery propaganda songs, abolitionist hymns, and 19th century opera enjoyed by enslavers. Insurrection is a work in progress and will be presented as a series of semi-staged sharings to explore how we come together to understand the legacy of enslavement. The events in the Linbury Theatre run from 21 to 25 March 2023, which is International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

The new work is being developed by Peter Brathwaite, baritone, artist and broadcaster (Peter Brathwaite sang the role of the Old Gardener in my opera The Gardeners in 2019), and represents an investigation of his own ancestors who were enslaved workers and enslavers on sugar plantations in Barbados. Insurrection charts the story of rebellion and resistance in Barbados, and celebrates the human need to gather, move, make music, and tell stories, amid, and in response to, oppression.

Insurrection is a collaboration between Brathwaite, director Ellen McDougall, writer Emily Aboud, and music director Yshani Perinpanayagam who is arranging the original musical material.

Full details from the Royal Opera House website.

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