Stormlight – 2002
St James, Notting Hill, London
Opera Now March/April 2003
W11 Opera is one of the best kept secrets in the opera world. In its 32nd year, some 90 children aged between nine and 18 take part in a new production each year – a staggering 28 of these have been world premieres. The operas are usually presented in W11 (a postal district of London) and last year, there were invitations to perform at the Royal Opera House and with Holland Park Festival.
Stormlight was a slight departure in that the subject matter was a lot more serious than usual – Katherine Craik’s wonderful ghost story set on a remote shore was stark and atmospheric. A chorus of Winds and The Seas lie in wait for those who venture onto the isolated beach. Six Explorers come across an abandoned lighthouse where they are claimed by Ghost Children and set to haunt the beach for eternity. The text is suitably goose-pimply – ‘we are lost in time at the end of the world’ chant the Ghost Children in a spine-chilling sequence.
David Knotts’ score has a lot going for it – angular, atonal harmonies built around folk tunes and modality. Unfortunately, the complexity of some of the music was just too austere and many of the vocal lines were not sympathetically scored so diction suffered. Also, the pace slowed to a grinding halt midway through the work. Meanwhile, the stars of the show, the Winds and The Seas were sitting quietly with nothing to do. Their one main number was breathtaking and they sang and acted with confidence. If only they had had more – for their sakes and that of the piece. The explorers were first-rate (especially Anna Sideris as the Navigator) and coped with the challenging music marvellously: the Ghost Children were quite mesmerising all in Victorian, white costumes – I loved the slow-motion games and the poise of their ‘leader’, Davina Clarke as Loss. The Beachcombers were also excellent. Conductor Philip Colman (who also masterminds the workshops for the production) kept the score moving well and the orchestra were exemplary.
W11 Opera is an inspirational phenomenon – it has nurtured thousands of children who benefit musically, theatrically and by mixing with others in the community on productions that are of the highest quality. Sadly, although the children are pooled from 35 schools, it is clear that most come from the well-heeled ones. This is not a criticism, just a sad reminder of how opera has a way to go before it is seen to be something that everyone can enjoy.