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Review: A King's Ransom, Open, Norwich, as theatrical as it is inspiring

PUBLISHED: 07:39 02 February 2018 | UPDATED: 08:33 02 February 2018

Youngsters from four Norfolk primary schools work alongside the Britten Sinfonia as they prepare to stage the first performance of new children's opera 'A Kings Ransom'.
Picture: Nick Butcher

Youngsters from four Norfolk primary schools work alongside the Britten Sinfonia as they prepare to stage the first performance of new children's opera 'A Kings Ransom'. Picture: Nick Butcher

Archant © 2018

Eve Stebbing hails a 'wonderful' new opera featuring hundreds of local children.

Opera has the reputation for being rather a forbidding and high-brow affair. I mean, for goodness’ sake, even once you have paid the exorbitant price of the ticket, it’s a cinch that they will be singing in a foreign language, the subtitles will be too small to read and the convoluted plot will leave you spinning - so why bother?

Well, a new initiative by Norfolk’s own Genevieve Raghu provides some compelling answers. Her company Into Opera calls itself a creative revolution. This team of experienced professionals are determined to share the power of their chosen art form with all and sundry - and especially the children.

Although the centre-piece of the set is a rather stately oak, I have no intention of beating around any bushes here. This work is fantastic. The brand-new score composed by Patrick Hawes (former composer-in-residence at Classic FM) catches the kids up in a sound world that is achingly beautiful and very moving. Britten Sinfonia under the baton of Tom Floyd are pure perfection in the pit.

Andrew Hawes (brother to Patrick) has written a lively and well judged libretto, in which chorus and principals can all shine. His story is an upside-down version of Robin Hood. Not only does Robin disappear, but the forest itself is threatened. Fortunately, a King’s ransom of treasure turns up in magical fashion to save the day.

The talents of children from Avenue Junior School, St Francis of Assisi Catholic Primary School, Sprowston Junior School and St George’s Primary School combine to create an evening that is as theatrical as it is inspiring. The students have been preparing over a 16-week period - but even so, their level of commitment and polish is impressive. Although professional singer Lizzie Holmes takes one of the lead-roles, principals are mostly played by children. Milly Shanahan as the terrifying Sergeant makes a notable debut.

With 160 children on and off the stage, this could be chaos, but it isn’t. It’s wonderful.

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