When you think about it, opera and football have a lot in common.
Both filled with passion and drama, they also share a stapled-on need for discipline, training and teamwork.
So, when registered charity Music in the Minster was thinking of commissioning Wearside’s first opera, it’s perhaps unsurprising that they looked to Sunderland AFC for inspiration.
It also makes utter sense that they approached one of the North East’s most acclaimed writers to pen the ambitious production’s libretto.
Skellig author David Almond was more than delighted to be involved with An Opera for Sunderland, which will have football at its heart - right where the city keeps its football team.
“This is such a great opportunity to create an opera for everyone,” said David, speaking during the project’s launch at the Stadium of Light on Friday. (Oct 10)
“When they originally asked me to be involved, I was very busy and I didn’t think I could do it. But something was stopping me saying ‘no’. Then as soon as I head Alison (Barton, the artistic director) and Louise (Taylor, project manager) talk about it, I immediately began writing down ideas... I couldn’t not do it.”
Although David admits his footballing loyalties lie on the banks of the Tyne rather than the Wear, it is clear the multi-award-winning writer - who was responsible for penning the triumphant narration for the Great North Run Million Opening Ceremony last month - won’t be letting that influence his creative process.
“At the end of the day, I love football, I love opera, I Iove the North East. Football is imbued with operatic language and emotion: saviours and messiahs, destiny and miracles, glory and disappointment, joy and despair.
“It has a wonderful soundscape: the singing, the groaning, the cheering of crowds.
“I aim to write a story that embodies the passion of football, that focuses on Sunderland AFC and its great supporters, that draws on the club’s great history, and that is filled with the poetic accent, rhythms and dialect of North Eastern speech.”
The production, which Northumberland-based David will be writing as “an opera of two halves, each 45 minutes”, will be the second opera he has been involved with. In 2008, Skellig, The Opera, which he co-created with composer Tod Machover, had its world premiere at Sage Gateshead.
“This is a very different project though, and more exciting really because you are starting with a blank piece of paper.”
For this new project, he will be working with award-winning composer, Marcos Fernandez, who - coming from Barcelona - knows how football can be the lifeblood of a city.
He said: “I am very much looking forward to composing this new opera for the people of Sunderland, with football at the heart of the story. It is a community I feel is similar to my own in the city of Barcelona, where football also plays a big role in society.”
Sunderland-born Alison Barton added: “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 an award from Arts Council England, Music in the Minster is creating an Opera for Sunderland, set in the world of football.”
As with all of Music in the Minster’s work, An Opera for Sunderland is all about local people taking part – from sharing their stories, to workshops and performance opportunities.
Working with Foundation of Light and The Cultural Spring, the charity plan to involve as many local residents as possible, starting with Black Cat Stories – giving fans the opportunity to create digital stories about their experiences as supporters.
Alison said: “An Opera for Sunderland will be born out of Sunderland, creating a unique work of art which will endure even after its first performances as a testament to the region, its talents and its vision.”
- An Opera for Sunderland will premiere at Sunderland Minster in November 2015. More details, including how to take part, will be available later in the autumn. For email updates, sign up to the mailing list at www.musicintheminster.org.uk