When discussions started about the ceremony for The Journal Culture Awards 2014, we had our usual ‘wish list five minutes’, talking about who and what would be our top five performers on the night.
At some point during the chat - possibly in between a Sting vs Ant and Dec dance off and the ingenious notion of AC/DC’s Brian Johnson duetting with The Unthanks - I chimed in with a perhaps more realistic idea (although still one which we all thought was unlikely at best).
I said: “Ah, do you know what would be brilliant? We could get David Almond to read an exclusive extract from the football opera he’s writing for Sunderland, (even though it’s not scheduled to premiere until November).”
And do you know what? That’s exactly what the internationally-acclaimed author of Skellig, Heaven Eyes and many more is going to do at the awards ceremony on June 30, at Sunderland Minster.
Not only that, but he’ll be accompanied by a specially selected slice of the score from composer Marcos Fernandez, from Barcelona and will also be revealing what the opera will be called.
“I’m thrilled to be involved... I might even sing it,” laughs 64-year-old David, who can also be revealed today as one of the finalists in the category of Writer of the Year for penning the triumphant narration to the Great North Run Million Opening Ceremony in September.
“That (The GNR Million) was a great public project and the opera for Sunderland feels like another one. It’s so fantastic to be doing stuff out in the open to celebrate all the great things about here.
“I’ve heard a lot of the music already. It’s fantastic, really wonderful,” he continues. “The music really is genuinely wonderful. It really captures the magic and the spirit of the game.”
It was back in October that lifelong football fan (NUFC through and through) David announced he would be writing libretto for An Opera For Sunderland - a first for the city, commissioned by charity Music in the Minster, known for getting local people involved.
Safe to say he has been enjoying himself since.
“It’s all going really well,” he says. “It has been a fantastic project right from the start. Everyone has been so committed and it’s all been beautifully organised. I was one of those projects that just had to happen.
“Football and opera is such a great combination. People might find that strange, but football has got everything - soundscapes, chanting, drama, heroes, villains, messiahs... miracles,” he adds with a laugh and presumably with direct reference to both Newcastle and Sunderland snatching their premier league statuses out of the jaws of relegation at the end of last season.
“It was interesting when Sunderland got the point at Arsenal which saved them. I thought ‘yes, the opera is starting to work its magic’.”
Although he of course doesn’t want to spoil the story, Newcastle supporter David, who lives in Northumberland with his wife and daughter, was happy to put a bit more flesh on the bones of the opera.
“Of course it’s an opera of two halves - each one 45 minutes. It had to be.
“It is about salvation from disaster - as you would guess and hope for a northern football club. It’s also about the conflict between the glory of the game and the grass roots of the game.
“All the kids in Sunderland and Newcastle grew up kicking balls around dreaming of playing for their local team.
“At the heart of this story is a boy who becomes the star striker at Sunderland and is usurped by a new glorious arrival. It’s about the temptations of fame and there’s also a love story with the new footballer falling in love with a lass from Pennywell.
“Like all good operas it has a love story at its heart - and also the love of the game. A lot of it is about just the gorgeousness of kicking a ball about. It really is a beautiful game.”
Now the libretto and the music have been written, the task for Music in the Minster is to assemble its community cast.
Sunderland-born opera singer and creative director Alison Barton says: “Anyone can sing, just like anyone can kick a ball. We bring experts from the world of opera to share their skills with the local community – we can teach people to sing, just like a good coach can teach ball control.
“And just like having a kick around with your mates, singing together makes you feel good. We’re holding free singing workshops and open auditions this summer and what I’d say to anyone who thinks opera’s not for them is, ‘if you can
chant at the Stadium of Light, you can come and have a go at singing’”
To prove it, on June 13 and 20, Music in the Minster are offering free Singing Roadshows – two hour workshops for anyone thinking of giving singing a go for the first time, or regular singers who fancy trying something different. There will also be open auditions on July 11 and 12.
Kath Price from Roker took part in Music in the Minster’s opera workshop at The Cultural Spring’s Summer Streets Festival, “I didn’t think I would like opera until a friend took me along to see one at the Empire some years ago. I was intrigued by the idea of an opera workshop and thought I would try it. What a revelation!”
An Opera for Sunderland will première at Sunderland Minster in November 2015. For more details, including how to sign up for free singing workshops on 13 and 20 June, or open auditions on 11 and 12 July, visit www.musicintheminster.org.uk .