The moving Sunderland opera inspired by real soldiers' stories
and live on Freeview channel 276
Opera Sunderland had already recruited a 40-strong community chorus to perform new production, The Soldier’s Return, when the country went into the first lockdown in March.
But, determined to bring the piece to life, work began on producing it in a socially-distanced way.
Inspired by present day war veterans’ real life experiences, The Soldier’s Return is drawn from interviews with local people involved in past, recent and ongoing combat situations. It explores the impact of conflict when soldiers return home, not only on the soldiers themselves, but also their families and their relationship with the wider community.
Sunderland-born artistic director Alison Barton said: “We wanted to honour the commitment to our community participants, the veterans who shared their stories with us, our artists, team and funders by taking a radical, lateral view of the situation. So we came up with a new and completely safe way of making the production that we hope will prove to be even more inclusive and accessible than our original plan to stage the opera live here in Sunderland.
"We decided to collaborate with award-winning North East film makers Meerkat Films and sound engineer Ian Stephenson at Simpson Street Studios to produce The Soldier’s Return as a film instead of a live production. Social distancing rules have meant taking an approach more akin to producing a pop video than an opera, but although it’s quite an experimental approach in the classical music world, it is tried and tested in other genres such as pop and rock. It’s a case of the show must go on, and it will.”
Premiered to mark Remembrance Sunday, the opera is available to view online throughout November.
It follows the success of MIRACLE! An Opera of Two Halves which premiered in Sunderland in 2015 and celebrated the city’s passion for football.
For this new production, Opera Sunderland has brought together many of the same artistic team, including Artistic Director Alison Barton, international award-winning composer Marcos Fernandez-Barrero, Director Annie Rigby and Musical Director Marco Romano.
They are joined by T.S. Eliot prize-winning poet Jacob Polley who has written the libretto, Production Designer Imogen Cloët, Sound Engineer Ian Stephenson and Meerkat Films.
The cast, who’ve appeared in celebrated opera productions across the country, are baritone Ian Priestley (The Man), mezzo-soprano Katherine Aitken (The Woman), tenor Austin Gunn (Voice 1) and bass-baritone Andri Björn Róbertsson (Voice 2).
Formerly known as Music in the Minster, Opera Sunderland is a registered charity that believes opera is for everyone, making it available, attractive and accessible by creating opportunities for the people of Sunderland.
The commission is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and as with all of Opera Sunderland’s work, The Soldier’s Return is about local people taking part – from sharing their stories, to workshops and performance opportunities.
The Soldier’s Return is available to view online until November 30 for free at www.operasunderland.co.uk/operas-events/the-soldiers-return