Great ideas: Snappy Operas Photos courtesy of Mahogany Opera Group.

Great ideas: Snappy Operas

Jenna Simeonov

Mahogany Opera Group has launched its ambitious Snappy Operas project, which gives young people the chance to work with composers and librettists to develop a series of ten new ten-minute operas. Headed by Artistic Director Frederic Wake-Walker, Snappy Operas has a multi-year timeline, and Mahogany will team up with ten partnering organizations, including theatres and music education hubs, to work with over 1500 kids across the United Kingdom. Wake-Walker is working with writer Toby Litt, and composers like Errollyn Wallen, Luke Styles, Gwyneth Herbert, and Luke Carver Goss.

The project will continue through spring of 2018, at which point the goal is to have the ten Snappy Operas collected, with educational resources like accompaniment tracks and suggested rehearsal plans, and made available for continued use by UK schools, youth choirs and theatre groups, and arts hubs.

This week at Pembroke House, Wake-Walker and composer Emily Hall worked with a group of young opera enthusiasts on Snappy Opera I, called The Itch Witch, an opera about head lice. The young singers were split into groups, collectively representing characters like nits, strands of hair, and a comb. With the help of Snappy Operas Music Director Timothy Redmond, the kids spent a full day learning music by rote, and staging the short opera with Wake-Walker himself.

“It is mentally exhausting, for everybody,” Redmond told us. “If you’re leading it, you’ve got to keep them with it and spot who is tired, who’s irreparably tired, who can be brought back to life, who’s just zoned out because they’re either eight or a teenager.”

There was a noticeable amount of diligence and attention to detail in rehearsing with these young people. Wake-Walker and Redmond each spent time refining details of movement, text, and cues, and encouraged the kids to sing this new music clearly and confidently.

“You do the music, you block it, you refine it, you revise it, you come back to it, and you run it,” explains Redmond, noting that the rehearsal process for Snappy Operas is very close to that of grown-ups working in professional opera companies. “That model of approach is fail-safe. One doesn’t need to work any differently with kids. They’re often more receptive and they’re quicker and they learn it very, very fast.”

Snappy Operas are designed to be flexible in their composition, allowing for various levels of musical skill and different combinations of instruments available. Redmond adds that it’s not necessary, nor reasonable to assume that all UK schools and arts hubs will have grand pianos or the resources to delegate leadership among a full creative staff.

Ambition is at the heart of this project, and Redmond takes pride in the fact that “the point of this exercise is to see how far one can push it.” Despite its short length, putting up a compact opera is quite different than learning single songs, or even putting up a full musical.

“It’s just a short piece. You think how much work it takes to put on a school show - it’s immense. But it’s very satisfactory to work on something that has a beginning, a middle and an end. Boom, done, in such a short amount of time.”

The day at Pembroke House closed with a presentation by the kids of their work on The Itch Witch, and there was a noticeable feeling of accomplishment among kids and adults alike. “It’s been a really positive day,” agreed Redmond, “and they work really hard, which is a positive sign.”

To find out more about Snappy Operas, visit Mahogany Opera Group’s website, right here.

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