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Commentary

18 Jul 2020

A Feast in the Time of Plague: Britain's first new opera commission since lockdown, at Grange Park Opera

A brand-new opera - A Feast in the Time of Plague - will be performed by Grange Park Opera, live on the stage of the Theatre in the Woods on Sunday 13 September 2020 in front of an invited audience of 250 people.

With a libretto by opera-giant Sir David Pountney and music by Alex Woolf, A Feast in the Time of Plague is the only new opera to have been commissioned during lockdown. It will be filmed, and later streamed free to be accessible online for everyone around the world.

This will be the first opera in the UK to be performed inside a theatre, and with an audience, since lockdown.

Wasfi Kani, Founder/ CEO of Grange Park Opera, says : “We’ve decided to take a leap to perform this live in front of an audience. This new opera has 12 performers around a very, very long table - groaning with luscious delicacies. We are taking the utmost precautions. The five levels of the Theatre in the Woods normally seats more than 700 people. It means that the 250 audience members will each have a volume of air of 31 cubic metres - considerably more than a half-full plane to Greece upon which 100 passengers have a mere 2.34 cubic metres. In my view it’s time we all got moving again, and I don’t mean flying to Greece.”

· A new opera based on Alexander Pushkin’s 1830 fragment of the same title

· Pountney completed the libretto in early June; composer, Alex Woolf, completed his score in 6 weeks

· The UK’s first opera performance in a theatre will have an invited audience of 250 inside the Theatre in the Woods.

· The performers and crew will be tested for antibodies Medical Detection Dogs have been asked to provide dogs to help detect any trace of viruses

· The audience will be seated in household groups and in private boxes

· They will be invited to bring teddy bears to place in surrounding seats

Pountney explains how his libretto developed whilst in lockdown in Wales: “ I responded to Pushkin’s little fragment by creating 12 - because of the Last Supper - very varied characters ­who arrive voluntarily and most of whom depart involuntarily - i.e. they die. In between they capture the defiance and solidarity that we have all experienced during these strange times. The virus exposes truths about all of us in surprising ways. A Feast in the Time of Plague captures this - as well as the essential lesson that we must carry on laughing.”

Gramophone magazine as “a major presence in starry company.”

A superb cast of virtuoso performers includes superstar baritone Sir Simon Keenlyside, Welsh tenor Wynne Evans - famous for his TV campaign for insurance website, Go Compare - and Wagnerian soprano Susan Bullock, who has appeared many times at Covent Garden. She plays Claire the clairvoyant who predicts the plague:

I read in my old papyrus // That the dread Corona Virus // Would rage until 2021.
I told Tommy when he reaches // The Normandy beaches, // Poor boy, your race will soon be run.
I saw the end of the Titanic // All the tragedy and panic // Before she even set out to sea.
I knew that Dodi and Diana // Would die in such a manner - // Yes, that was all revealed to me.”

Bullock champions the idea of public performances: “It’s time that we performers are allowed to get back into the theatre. We need to find a way to make this work - and quickly. We are all aware of what we must do in order to keep colleagues and audiences as safe as possible”.

All the musicians, singers and technicians are being paid for this historic first step for theatre in 2020.

For more information about A Feast in the Time of Plague, plus past and forthcoming performances visit www.grangeparkopera.co.uk, or follow @grangeparkopera on social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram YouTube).

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