Woodwose: Wigmore’s first opera

I never thought I’d see a bicycle whizz by me in the Wigmore Hall but it immediately captured the scene for the opening of Woodwose; the first ever community opera at Wigmore Hall. What makes the project so exciting for me is that the community of 120 local children and adults – joined by the tenor Andrew Kennedy and Wigmore Learning’s resident ensemble Ignite – were involved in the development of the project right from the outset. Kerry Andrew (the composer of Woodwose) writes:

When I met the participants last autumn, I asked what frightened them as children, and what monsters they were warned about when they were young. Some of these fears traversed all age groups, and sinister figures from fairy tales all over the world had startling similarities. (Kerry Andrew)

Woodwose became a figure that embodied the tales the participants shared with Kerry, and the musical ideas also came from those involved. The final work weaves together the fragments of material devised in workshops led by Kerry and she skilfully creates a soundscape that captures the dramatic impetus of the tale well. Woodwose is an initially unknown character that lives in the forest, the children sing about this mysterious figure and fantasise about the nature of his life. The folk-like melodies are always reminiscent of nursery rhymes, tinged with a sinister edge with some effective harmonies and intervals. Ignite captured the atmosphere with ease; the timbre of the flute and clarinet particularly capturing the coldness of the forest, and the jaunty clarinet playing of Vicky Wright portraying the bustling life of the village. The ensemble singing was a real strength, and Kerry had written material that could be sung confidently by the children (a combination of pupils from local schools) and the adults; they all clearly felt a sense of ownership and were committed to the delivery of the songs. The solo girl was excellent; her vocal timbre perfect for the story. The solo girl ‘Betty’ meets Woodwose, and is initially thought to have been taken by him. The villagers search for Woodwose and Betty, and upon confronting him attempt to scare him away. Andrew Kennedy grabbed attention from his very first entry, embodying the character of Woodwose so vividly, often accompanied by the beautiful cello playing of James Barralet). It was a touching scene when after much confusion the villagers acknowledge Woodwose as one of them – after a super kitchen-utensil bashing from all the cast attempting to send Woodwose away.

So little was needed to transform the Wigmore (Ruth Paton being responsible for the design); a curtain hung over the stage to assist with the changes from the village and the forest, the balcony was used to good effect and the auditorium was used throughout. Movement was combined with excellent singing, led by Issy Adams and directed by Hazel Gould with real aplomb. Issy gave clear and energetic musical direction throughout.

This was clearly a worthwhile project. All of the participants enjoyed performing, and knew the material so well. I am sure all of the young performers will remember their first opera performance at the Wigmore as much as the audience will.

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