New Mackem opera doesn’t only sing when we’re winning

Baritone Miles Horner and Tenor Jonathan Cook. Picture by David Tiernan
Baritone Miles Horner and Tenor Jonathan Cook. Picture by David Tiernan
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The highs and lows of following SAFC - from the derby delights to the crushing defeats - are being incorporated into a new opera.

Rehearsals are now in full swing for MIRACLE! An Opera of Two Halves, which will premiere at Sunderland Minster later this month.

Angelo is sent from heaven to save SAFC

Angelo is sent from heaven to save SAFC

Award-winning author David Almond and composer Marcos Fernandez announced earlier this year that they would be putting together an opera based upon people’s passion for the beautiful game.

Since then, fans have been telling their tales in Black Cats Stories, a series of workshops in which supporters created digital stories about what football means to them.

The resulting opera sees 42 local singers, aged 12-70, join forces with a cast of professional soloists for the opera which will be performed from November 27-29.

Speaking about the opera’s plot, David Almond, whose novels include children’s classic Skellig, said: “All teams need a miracle when they’re heading for the drop. Things are getting desperate in the Stadium of Light. But God looks down and takes pity on the Black Cats.

Conductor Marco Romano, author David Almond, Sunderland-born mezzo soprano Alison Barton and composer Marcos Fernandez.

Conductor Marco Romano, author David Almond, Sunderland-born mezzo soprano Alison Barton and composer Marcos Fernandez.

“An angel named Angelo is sent to earth to play in red and white, and the miracle begins to unfold. But what about Hughie Mann, the local lad, who has been star striker until now? And what about the temptations of fame?

“Will Angelo be seduced by Barcelona, Bayern Munich, or Man United? And is he just a flash in the pan, another false messiah? And what about God, who wants his angel back again?”

The opera will be set at the Stadium of Light, in Sunderland’s streets and at Roker Beach and will be sung in a Mackem lilt.

David added: “It’s driven by the chanting and singing of the crowd, and by a love of the beautiful game. It’s an opera that’s filled, like football itself, with reckless hope and dread despair. It echoes with the triumphs of the past, and points towards the glories of the future.

“MIRACLE! is a love story, in which an angel sent from heaven falls in love with an ordinary town and its ordinary streets - an angel who is swept off his feet by a lovely local lass from Pennywell.”

The opera has been commissioned by Music in the Minster, a registered charity that brings experts from the world of opera to share their skills with Wearside, who teamed up with Foundation of Light, The Cultural Spring and Sunderland City Council Library Services to include local people in the opera.

The professional cast includes Nottingham-born baritone Ian Priestley who will play God/Larry; Angelo will be played by Cheshire tenor Jonathan Cooke; baritone Miles Horner plays Sunderland AFC legend Hughie Mann and Veronica will be sung by soprano Caroline Kennedy.

Sunderland-born artistic director Alison Barton said: “I remember the atmosphere in Sunderland when the Black Cats won the FA cup in 1973. It was like an electric current running right through every home, school, workplace and street. Bobby Kerr even visited my school. Everyone felt part of it.

“The next time I felt that way was on stage as a teenager, appearing in my first opera. Sadly over the years, the opportunities for people in the region to experience that same thrill dwindled, but now, thanks to funding from Arts Council England, Music in the Minster is creating an Opera for Sunderland, set in the world of football.”

•MIRACLE! An Opera of Two Halves is at Sunderland Minster from November 27-29. Tickets priced £10 / £8 concessions are now available online at ticketsource.co.uk/musicintheminster