Operasonic’s Rhian Hutchings deserves full credit for bringing the opportunity for young people to get involved in what so often seen as a pampered, elitist art form in its shiny ivory tower in Cardiff, irrelevant to their lives and beyond the boundaries of Cardiff.
The result of this faith in taking opera out of its conventional confines was an entertaining show called Newport Legends, created by established composers and directors, working with children in primary schools in the city along with community groups in the Maindee area.
Four separate scenes were created by a director and composer working in collaboration with the schools and community group interlinked with an umbrella narrative of a developer, Charles Morgan, arguing for unbridled change in a city with nothing of importance and a local champion Annie Brewer, who lifts the veil from his eye with the help of the school and community performers. Sung by professional opera singers Adam Jondelius and Philippa Reeves, the story was simple and, of course, ended with the developer ripping-up his plans as the combined performers all sang the finale with the rousing chorus We are the Newport Legends. Their accessible music was written by composer Errollyn Wallen and performed with commendable clarity, directness and conviction by the singers.
A packed Riverfront Theatre audience including the families of lots of the performers sat back and listened intently to the four stories; The stories are The Legend of the Flood, composed by Helen Woods, performed by St Michael’s Primary School working with Rhian Evans and based on the 1607 deluge of the Gwent Levels; Maindee Legends, composed by Jack White, from the Maindee Legend Community Choir, working with Polly Graham and the role of Maindee Woman sung by Claire Watkins; The Legend of Tom Prothero, composed by Richard Barnard, from Clytha Primary School working with Hannah Noone telling the story of the feud between land agent and lawyer Thomas Prothero and Chartist John Frost and Twmbarlwm Legend, composed by Stacey Blythe, from St Woolos Primary School, working with Philippa Reeves, around the myths that surround the ancient burial mound.
Errollyn also worked with pupils of Lliswerry High School and two of the songs created n the workshop were featured in the linking sections and sung by Phillipa and Adam.
With lots of imaginative props and bags of enthusiasm from the performers, against a backdrop of a church tower and cut out, stylised trees, and a punchy four-piece band, the 95 minute show was full of fun and charm from the moment the first children appeared, scanning the audience for family faces.
Images Roy Campbell-Moore