W11 Opera regularly draws on the talents of many of Britain’s best known librettists. If you are interested in writing a libretto alongside a commissioned W11 composer please consult the Commission brief. Note that, given the unusual nature of the Company and its young cast, it is hugely beneficial to have seen a W11 production prior to making a submission. The table below contains links to brief biographies, as well as links to the Past Years pages containing synopses, pictures, musical excerpts, and other items about particular productions.
|2016||The Price||Helen Eastman|
|2015||Eliza & the Swans||Hazel Gould|
|2014||Deep Waters||Christie Dickason|
|2013||The Fizz||Phil Porter|
|2012||Good Intentions||Simon Christmas|
|2011||Original Features||Christina Jones|
|2010||Rain Dance||Donald Sturrock|
|2009||The Whale Savers||Phil Porter|
|2008||The Song of Rhiannon||Helen Cooper|
|2006||Chincha-Chancha Cooroo||William Radice|
|2004||All in the Mind||Edward Lambert|
|2003||Game Over||Jane Aspeling|
|2001||Flying High||John Kane|
|2000||Deep Waters||Christie Dickason|
|1996||Ulysses and the Wooden Horse||Timothy Kraemer|
|1995||The Dancing Princesses||Nick Renton|
|1993||Travellers Tale||Michael Kamen|
|1992||Listen to the Earth||Sarah Shuckburgh|
|1991||A Time of Miracles||John Kane|
|1990||Double Trouble||Adam Thorpe|
|1988||The Return of Odysseus||David Bedford|
|1987||Ulysses and the Wooden Horse||Timothy Kraemer|
|1986||The Tin Knight||Michael Finch|
|1985||Bel and the Dragon||Timothy Kraemer|
|1984||The Adventures of Jonah||Timothy Kraemer and Peter Dickinson|
|1983||Rainbow Planet||Timothy Rose Price|
|1980||Mak the Sheep Stealer*||Don Taylor|
|1978||The Girl and the Unicorn||Stephen Oliver|
|1977||The Adventures of Jonah||Timothy Kraemer and Peter Dickinson|
|1976||Like This, Like That||Peter Dickinson|
|1974||The Winter Star*||Malcolm Williamson|
|1973||Bel and the Dragon||Timothy Kraemer|
|1972||The Pied Piper||Jeremy Hornsby|
|1971||Noye’s Fludde*||Benjamin Britten|
* Not a W11 Commission
After completing a degree in Theatre Arts at Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama Jane Aspeling worked with several fringe and community theatre groups in London. She moved to Ewelme, a little village in Oxfordshire, where she brought up her children. During this time Jane met Guy Dagul and they collaborated on various musical projects for children including writing a new version of Toad of Toad Hall and Jolly Roger based on the book by Colin McNaughton. She took up painting, did a Foundation Art course and got a place at Central St Martins to study a Fine Art Degree. Jane thus moved back up to London.
In 2003/2004 she worked with Guy devising the libretto for ‘Game Over’. Having hooked up again with several friends from college days Jane is in the process of developing a couple of projects with them. These will have to be put on the back burner when she embarks on a Teacher Training course in September 2006.
Carol Barratt is an established world leader in music education both as a teacher and composer. She is a former student of the Royal College of Music and after graduating became the first female to be awarded the Martin Musical Scholarship for composition by the Philharmonia Society. She is an Honorary Member of the Royal College of Music.
Over the last few years Carol has been diversifying her talents and her recent collaboration with Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers has resulted in a number of new publications. The Cat’s Pyjamas, a unique collection of mix and match melodies for beginner pianists, received the Music Industries Association Educational Publication of the Year award in 1996 followed by the ingenious Topsy Turvy Tunes. In 1995 her Six Songs for Singing were chosen to be performed as part of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Composers’ Guild. Recent collaborations include Bravo!, a new series of books for young instrumentalists and the operaEloise, music by Karl Jenkins, (composer of Adiemus) for which she wrote the libretto.
Carol Barratt is published by Boosey & Hawkes.
Norman Brooke was Director of English and Drama at Millfield Junior School where he (with Steve Gray) wrote and produced a number of musicals; wrote the libretto for West 11’s 1989 production, Koppelberg.
Simon Christmas has been collaborating with Julian Philips since they met at university. Their first piece, Life Lessens, a monologue for mezzo and piano, received its premiere at the Bloomsbury Festival in 2007. Other collaborations include: Followers, a promenade opera premiered at Glyndebourne in August 2011; Body of Water, commissioned by JAM and premiered at St Bride’s Church in April 2012; and Blist’s Hill, commissioned for the NMC Songbook. Forthcoming projects include a children’s opera for W11 Opera.
An alumnus of the UEA Creative Writing MA, Simon combines his creative writing interests with a career as a social psychology researcher, investigating the aspirations, motivations and experiences of ordinary people across the UK for a range of senior public sector clients. His varied portfolio of work testifies either to an enduring interest in the intersection between philosophy, psychology and fiction, or to a failure to make up his mind what he wants to do with his life.
Helen Cooper was born in Holland of Welsh/Dutch parentage.
Her plays include: Mrs. Gauguin, finalist Susan Smith Blackburn Award, (Almeida Theatre, London, Amsterdam, Hamburg and Ghent); Mrs. Vershinin, finalist Susan Smith Blackburn Award, (Riverside Studios, London, Tramway, Glasgow, Theatre der Welt, Hamburg and broadcast on BBC Radio 3.) both directed by Mike Bradwell; The House of Ruby Moon, developed by the Royal National Theatre Studio and premiered at the London New Play Festival;Three Women and a Piano Tuner, finalist Susan Smith Blackburn Award, commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company; andMothers at the Gate, commissioned by the Hampstead Theatre.
Her translations include: Miss Julie for Greenwich Theatre, Hedda Gabler for Chichester Festival Theatre, and Don Giovanni for Scottish Opera. She was the dramaturg for Tom Cairns’ production of La Boheme at Stuttgard Opera House and collaborated on the dance piece This is the Picture for the Aletta Collins Dance company. Her screenplay Miss Julie was directed by Mike Figgis, was highly acclaimed. Her short film,Station, which she also produced (directed by Jackie Oudney) won the Cinerail de Bronze in Paris, the best British Short film award at the Kino Film Festival in Manchester, the best short film award at the Croydon Film Festival and was nominated as best short film for BAFTA Scotland’s New Talent Award.
She is currently working on a new commission from the Royal Shakespeare Company and on a libretto for the composer Mark Bowden, based on The Mabinogion for W11 Opera. She has newly been appointed as the dramaturge of Antony MacDonald’s production of Wagner’s Ringfor Nationale Reisopera in The Netherlands. She is a regular tutor at Webster University in Leiden, Holland.
Katie Craik is a librettist, writer and academic. She graduated with a doctorate in Renaissance Literature from King’s College Cambridge, and presently works as a lecturer and Research Fellow at Worcester College Oxford.
Since writing Stormlight for W11, she has worked again with composer David Knotts on a commission for English National Opera. Bake for One Hour: A Grand Opera at Gas Mark 7 premiered in Spring 2004 at the Clore Space at the London Coliseum. She has also written libretti with David for the education department at Glyndebourne Opera.
Her most recent work, an edition of Jane Collier’s An Essay on the Art of Ingeniously Tormenting for Oxford World’s Classics, was featured in April 2006 on Radio 4’s Women’s Hour.
Christie Dickason is an internationally-published novelist and poet, on best-seller lists in UK, Germany and Canada. Though she has written from the age of five, she worked for 14 years as a theatre director and choreographer before returning to her real love – telling stories. She says, ‘Making theatre taught me to write.’ After growing up largely in Thailand, Switzerland and Mexico, and with degrees from Harvard (magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa) and Yale Drama School (Shubert Fellowship for Best Director), she has the Royal Shakespeare Company, Aftershave in the West End and Ronnie Scott’s among her many theatre credits. As writer, she has now published nine historical novels and written poetry, theatre, celebrations, and many collaborations with Cecilia, all performed – from the South Bank, via St John’s, Smith Square and Sherborne Abbey to school halls. She has recently finished a tenth novel, her first for Young Adults, Fur Beneath the Skin about outsiders. She has also written and presented for BBC Radio 4. Since 2012, she has been a tutoring Fellow of the Royal Literary Fund and was awarded a Research Fellowship by them in 2014. Christie and Cecilia McDowell had a Q&A with W11 in 2014.
Her most recent adult novel, The Noble Assassin (HarperCollins), was short-listed as Historical Novel of the Year by the Romantic Novelists Association. For more information, please visit her at www.christiedickason.com
I was born in 1927 in the middle of Africa, the second of three brothers. My father was a colonial civil servant, my mother the daughter of a South African farmer. When I was seven my father go a job back in England so that we could go to school here, but he died suddenly only a few months later, leaving my mother with three small boys and a baby, and very little money, so I grew up as one of what was then thought of as the impoverished gentry. Relatives and friends paid for our prep-school education, and I got a scholarship to Eton (bottom of the list in a bad year).
After Eton I was I was conscripted into the army for two inglorious years, and went on to Cambridge, where I largely wasted my time. I then got a job on the staff of Punch (literally by nepotism; one of my friends was a nephew of the editor). On the strength of this I married Mary Rose Barnard, an admiral’s daughter and we started a family, eventually achieving two daughters and two sons. I stayed for seventeen years as an assistant editor at Punch, writing prose articles and verse, and reviewing, mainly, crime novels. Eventually I had an idea for a crime novel of my own, started writing it on the kitchen table after supper, got stuck half way through, had a nightmare which I decided might form the basis of a children’s adventure story, and wrote it hoping to unblock the other book, which worked, and by the time I’d written a couple more and had the luck to get them all published I was earning enough to leave Punch and support my family by writing.
Since then I’ve written fifty-odd books of both kinds, including The Seventh Raven, which is based on my time with W11 Opera. Mary Rose died in 1988, and after a year or two I married Robin McKinley, the American writer. We live in a small Hampshire town.
I’m still writing, but much more slowly these days.
Helen Eastman is a director of theatre, playwright and librettist who has worked throughout the UK and internationally. She trained at LAMDA after graduating with the Passmore Edwards Prize from Oxford University. Helen has a doctorate from King’s College London, focussing on contemporary translation of ancient plays.
Helen founded and is Artistic Director of Live Canon, the poetry performance ensemble, for whom she has directed many live shows and created digital projects and interactive installations. She is Artistic Associate of Oxford University’s APGRD and was Producer of the Onassis Programme from 2005-2010. She directed the last two triennial Cambridge Greek plays and this year directed a double-bill of Antigone and Lysistrata
As a playwright and librettist, Helen has written plays and operas for Oxford Playhouse, The Royal Society, Sheffield Crucible, Queens Hornchurch, Greenwich Theatre, Chester Open Air Season, ETO and the Young Vic. She is also an award-winning poet
Helen has made a substantial body of theatre work for children, in both subsidized and commercial sectors. She was one of twelve women invited to create work in the Phenomenal People series at the Festival Hall.
Michael Ffinch was born in Kent in 1934, and educated at Repton and Oxford where he read English, tutored for a time by W H Auden. In his late twenties he converted to Roman Catholicism, a dominant thread throughout his life, a life which encompassed schoolteaching, writing, poetry and broadcasting.
He moved to Hampstead in north London to teach. It was at this time that he collaborated with the composer Francis Shaw, writing Fanny by Gaslight and The Selfish Giant (1972), which won first prize in an international opera competition. This was followed by The Tin Knight.
A significant change came when he and his family moved to Westmorland. He was appointed librarian at Sedbergh School, where he also taught English. During this time he published collections of poems, and also a series of topographical books for Hale publishers inspired by his love and knowledge of the area. Then came a biography of G.K. Chesterton, published in 1986 and shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize. There followed biographies of Cardinal Newman and W.S. Gilbert, and an illustrated volume on his maternal grandfather, the artist Donald Maxwell. A biography of Dorothy Wordsworth was in preparation when he became ill. He died in 1999
Hazel is a director, writer and workshop leader who specialises in community and outreach both for productions and workshops.
For the last 15 years, she has used her background in theatre to collaborate with musicians creating new work in a diverse range of settings from professional productions to prisons and special needs schools.
This year she is directing a short opera commissioned and performed by Streetwise Opera in Nottingham and in 2013 she directed the Community Opera Woodwose by Kerry Andrew at The Wigmore Hall.
In recent years she has become increasingly recognised for her writing, and has written several libretti, notably We Are Shadows for Spitalfields Festival, winner of a RPS Music Award for Learning and Participation. This year will see works premiered by Sinfonia Viva, Philharmonia Orchestra , Streetwise Opera, Aurora Orchestra and the Triborough Music Hub & W11 Opera.
As an assistant director she works regularly for the Royal Opera House, in 2014 she was the director of the community ensemble for the Olivier award winning production of Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmelites. She lead the 70 strong ensemble of non-professional performers drawn from groups working with homelessness, ex-offenders and job –seekers, who made up the large acting chorus in Robert Carson’s classic staging.
Christina has created the original concepts and written libretti for many opera and music theatre pieces.
For Babel Music Theatre, a company she founded with composer Warren Wills to fuse the skills of actors and opera singers, she has written Weill Lovers, House of Obsession (Vivian Ellis Finalist, and nominated for Best Music Theatre award by Theatre Record).Streetwalker, (Sunday Times Critics Choice). Pin Money Opera, (Best Musical – Carling Fringe Awards). Wedlock, The Opera (Critics Choice), Babel Nights and Mary and the Shaman. Other works include: Round Women, Warm Seas and Long Shapes (composer Geoffrey Alvarez), Spider Song (composer Gillian Stevens), Cream-Tease and Timepiece (composer Roxanna Panufnik), Light Angel, Dark Angel (composer Derek Barnes) and a large-scale community opera, commissioned by the Royal Opera House, Heroes Don’t Dance (composer Julian Grant). She also worked with Julian on two short operas for Tête a Tête Company, Platform 10 and Odd Numbers. Christina and Julian also collaborated on A Very Private Beach for ENO Studio (The Knack). For Streetwise Opera’s large-scale site-specific opera production, she wrote Time Flows: A Handel and Hendrix Experience.
Christina has also directed an adaptation of Verdi’s Carmen, Aida, and Mozart’s Magic Flute for opera in education tours and adapted and directed Il Trovatore at the Gulbenkian Theatre. Christina is a music theatre and drama assessor for Trinity College of Music and an experienced actress (Equity name: Tina Jones), with many acting credits, including the Royal Shakespeare Company, Old Vic, Young Vic, West End musicals, regional repertory theatres and television.
Christina was commissioned by W11 in 2007 and wrote the libretto for Shadowtracks with music by Julian Grant. She is delighted to be working with W11 once again.
John Kane has been an actor and a writer for over forty years during which he has performed sixteen seasons with the Royal Shakespeare Company and written over two hundred television shows. He has written the libretto for three of W11’s operas, Time of Miracles,Antiphony, and Flying High and is now working on a new work with an American composer which will premiere in Boston in 2007.
John is perhaps best known for his adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, which continues to be performed throughout the world. The telefilmDaisies in December 2005 won him a prestigious Cable Ace award for best screenplay.
After many years as a lyricist, in 2005 for the first time, he wrote the music as well as the words for Southwark Playhouse’s adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost. His most prominent role was that of Puck in Peter Brook’s legendary production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Timothy Kraemer started his career playing the cello recording with Manfred Mann and Mike McGear. He also performed in a string quartet with the legendary group Yes. He wrote string arrangements for Matthew’s Southern Comfort and he wrote for Blaikley/Howard including string arrangements of material for Elvis Presley.
In 1970 he founded The Original String Quartet. The quartet’s first engagement was to have the rather dubious honour of playing at the launching of Christine Keeler’s autobiography in a seedy bar in Soho! In 1973 Timothy joined the rock band Esperanto for which he composed. The group featured Glenn Shorrock, the Australian lead singer.
He has had many pieces published by Faber, Schotts , Oxford University Press and the Associated Board and has written several children’s operas commissioned by the W11 Children’s Opera Group. Timothy currently works as a professional cellist in London
Children’s Operas commissioned by the W11 Children’s Opera Group: Like This, Like Thatlibretto by Peter Dickinson); The Adventures of Jonah music and libretto; Good King Wenceslas music and libretto; Ulysses and the Wooden Horse music and libretto; Bel and the Dragon, libretto (music by John Gardner); and Birthday, libretto (music by George Fenton).
- Timber! (commissioned by Friends of the Earth) A short musical for children
Gypsy Jazz for violin and piano (easy level) — Faber 1996
Gypsy Jazz for violin and piano (intermediate level) — Faber 1999
Don Quixote (commissioned by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment for an educational project)
Mood Swings for violin and piano(intermediate level) — Schotts 2001
More Mood Swings for violin and piano 2005
Associated Board Grade 2 violin 2002-2004 Lazy Time
Associated Board Grade 3 violin 2005-2007 Wind Up
Also violin pieces for the Guildhall Examination Board and the Australian Music Examination Board
Martin Newell is a writer, performer and musician. After twenty years playing in rock bands, he became a successful poet and broadcaster in 1990 He has published ten collections of verse and one pop memoir.
He wrote for The Independent titles for 15 years before taking up his current post as Poet In Residence at the Sunday Express.
He appears on TV occasionally and increasingly broadcasts on BBC Radios 3 & 4 as guest presenter. He lives in north-east Essex, where he continues to make records and write books.
Other Lyrics: The Knife with Nick Bicat and David Hare, produced at the Public Theater New York, recorded for the Lincoln Center; Time Piece, Spare Parts, Voices of Sleep (Proms) and others with Paul Patterson; Raggle Taggle, Three Wise Men and other with Herbert Chappell.
TV Films: Rabbit Pie Day, The Exercise, Border (Winner of Fippa D’Argent at the Cannes International Television Festival) and A Dangerous Man (International Emmy and New York TV Drama Award).
Films: Diamond Skulls, Shuttlecock, Rapa Nui and The Serpent’s Kiss (selected for competition at Cannes Film Festival).
Current work: Silent Rebels director John Goldschmidt, 35th May director Gil Kenan (Monster House), The Hunter for BBC Films and Mrs Darwin produced by Mike Newell.
I am in my late 50s, live on the Cotswold edge near Winchcombe with Leila, a psychodynamic counsellor. I have diversified into farming (sheep), plant some trees, grow some vegetables – and have three children all in their twenties.
Phil Porter is a playwright, screenwriter and librettist.
His plays for adults include The Cracks In My Skin, which won a Bruntwood Award and was premiered at Manchester Royal Exchange in 2008, and Stealing Sweets And Punching People, which was produced in London at Theatre 503 in 2003 and Off-Broadway. He adapted Hungarian playwright Janos Hay’s The Stonewatcher for The National Theatre and has written short plays for Paines Plough and the Royal Shakespeare Company. He has also written several plays for young people. These include The Flying Machine, a success at The Unicorn Theatre, and Smashed Eggs, which won the Arts Council Children’s Award and has been performed throughout the UK.
With Martin Ward, Phil adapted Pinocchio for the Royal Opera House in 2005. The production enjoyed two successful Christmas runs and was made into a film by BBC4. He also wrote a musical version of Hansel and Gretel for Northampton Theatre Royal, since revived at Dundee Rep. For televison, Phil wrote two episodes of My Parents Are Aliens and one episode of Pocoyo, both for ITV.
Phil wrote Skitterband Island, an opera for young children for Polka Theatre in 2010, collaborating once more with Martin Ward, following their successful work with W11 Opera in 2009, Whale Savers. His version of Cinderella was performed at the Unicorn Theatre at Christmas 2009, followed by Beauty and the Beast in 2010. His most recent play was Blink, a joint production between the Soho and Nabokov theatres in 2012.
Phil’s plays are published by Oberon Books.
William Radice was born in London in 1951, and has had a very varied career as a poet, translator, and scholar and teacher of Bengali language and literature. He has written more than thirty books, including nine books of his own poems. His translations for Penguin Classics of the poems and stories of the great Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore have been continuously in print for twenty years.
His other books include translations from German; Myths and Legends of India for the Folio Society; and a collection of a hundred Letters from England that he wrote from 1998 to 2002 for the Statesman newspaper in India. In the field of opera, he wrote the libretto for Param Vir’s highly praised chamber opera Snatched by the Gods (1992, based on a narrative poem by Tagore), and in 1995 translated Puccini’s Turandot for English National Opera. His latest book, Green, Red, Gold: A Novel in 101 Sonnets was published in 2005 by Flambard Press and acclaimed by A. N. Wilson in the Daily Telegraph as ‘stunning… at his best he as good as Auden’.
William Radice has given lectures and poetry readings all over India and Bangladesh, in many countries in Europe, and in North America. As a broadcaster, he is known for his regular contributions to BBC Radio 2’s Pause for Thought. He has recently written for the British Council journal Connecting about his experience of creating Chincha-chancha Cooroo. He is Senior Lecturer in Bengali at SOAS, University of London, but in September 2005 went part time to allow more time for writing.
Nick Renton was a chorister at Winchester Cathedral and trained with the mime Jacques Lecoq in Paris. He worked in theatre, first as an assistant director with Clifford Williams, then with the Royal Shakespeare Company and went on to direct in Rep and for The Actors Company. Turning to television drama in the 1980’s, he has made films and series for the BBC and Independent companies, amongst which, “The Interrogation of John”, “Lizzie’s Pictures”, “Underbelly”, Michael Gambon as “Maigret”, Robert Carlyle as “Hamish Macbeth”, “Far From the Madding Crowd”, Elizabeth Gaskell’s “Wives and Daughters”, “The Russian Bride”, “Silent Witness”, “Night Flight” which starred Christopher Plummer and Edward Woodward, John Hurt in “Bait”, Robert Lindsay as “Jericho”, and “Uncle Adolf” with Ken Stott playing Hitler, and is now completing a comedy about lawyers and divorce, “Who Gets the Dog?”
Sarah Shuckburgh was born in 1951, and was brought up in Worcester and Cambridge in a musical family. She was educated at the Perse School for Girls and at London University. She has lived in west London ever since – conveniently near to the W11 Opera. She is a teacher, writer and artist.
Sarah’s first libretto, in 1985, was designed to accompany Saint Saens’ Carnival of the Animals for an open air performance by 150 children and adults on an Oxfordshire hillside. Soon afterwards, Sarah’s daughters, Amy and Hannah, joined the W11 Opera, and Sarah spent several seasons helping behind the scenes before being commissioned to write “Listen to the Earth”, with Steve Gray as composer. In the 1992 production, Sarah’s son Alexander appeared as a rapping Oil Slick.
Later commissions included two libretti for the Piggott’s Family Music Camp in Buckinghamshire.
Sarah is head of Sociology at Queen’s Gate School in London, and writes regularly for the Sunday Telegraph travel section.
Donald Sturrock grew up in England and South America. After studying Modern History at Oxford University, he joined BBC Television’s Music and Arts Department where he worked as writer, producer and director and made more than thirty documentary films. Since leaving the BBC in 1992, he has has continued to make arts documentaries, while masterminding a series of new music commissions for young people based on the works of Roald Dahl. An avid opera fan, he has written librettos for five operas, includingThe Golden Ticket, based on Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which will be premiered in St. Louis in June 2010. His critically acclaimed biography Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl was published in September 2010. Rain Dance is his first collaboration with Stuart Hancock.
Adam Thorpe is a poet, novelist and playwright. He also writes reviews and articles, mainly for the Guardian , and was poetry critic for theObserver for several years. In 2004 he was the writer-in-residence for the Aldeburgh Music Festival. His novels include Ulverton and The Rules of Perspective and have been translated into several languages. He has written one stage play and seven plays for radio. He is currently working on a novel featuring a contemporary composer with a troubled love life, entitled Between Each Breath (June 2007).
The Rules of Perspective, Jonathan Cape, London, 2005
No Telling, Cape, London, 2003
Nineteen Twenty-One, Cape, London, 2001
Shifts(short stories), Cape, London, 2000
Pieces of Light, Cape, London, 1998
Still, Secker and Warburg, London, 1995
Ulverton, Secker and Warburg, London, 1992
- Nine Lessons from the Dark, Jonathan Cape, London, 2003
From the Neanderthal, Cape, London, 1999
Meeting Montaigne, Secker and Warburg, London, 1990
Mornings in the Baltic, Secker and Warburg, London, 1988
“A writer with exceptional gifts” Sunday Times“The Rules of Perspective marks Thorpe out… as one of our most significant writers” Scotsman