Norfolk Schools Opera Project

Four Norfolk schools are getting the opportunity to perform in a specially-written children’s opera on the Norwich Theatre Royal stage in June.

Drake’s Academy, Admiral’s Academy, Bishop’s Church of England Primary School and Redcastle Family School – all primary schools in Thetford – will come together to perform A Kind of Magic Flute in the Norfolk Schools Opera Project on June 23.

In addition to the chance to perform on a professional stage to an audience of up to 1300 people, the young musicians who are also involved in the project have been able to experience putting together a recording of the score.

The newly-commissioned 50-minute-long children’s opera is adapted from Mozart’s classic The Magic Flute.  The piece has been commissioned by Norwich Theatre Royal and the Norfolk Music Hub, in association with the Come & Sing Company. It includes traditional elements but also is brought up-to-date with modern influences such as salsa.

The Theatre Royal’s learning and education manager John Simpson-Wedge said: “We have run education projects at the theatre for over two decades under the title Norfolk Schools Project. This has now become the Norfolk Schools Opera Project and has been expanded out to reach more schools and have greater impact on participants than previously. We are very excited to be growing this much-loved programme and can’t wait to share the results of everyone’s hard work.”

Leading up to the performance, there will be a Residency Week starting on June 17 in the four Thetford primary schools where each school will work on its own Act for the opera under the watchful eye of a director and a vocal trainer. The opera will run to four acts in total, each lasting eight to ten minutes, then the dramatic finale will bring all four schools together. On June 21, the schools will perform in Thetford for their own school communities, before heading to the Theatre Royal for their public performance on June 23.

The performance on the Theatre Royal stage will see 120 Year 5 students, aged eight to ten-years-old, tread the boards on the day and 20 schools in the audience, comprising up to 700 pupils, will also participate in the singing. Plus an orchestra of gifted and talented young musicians from schools across Norfolk will play live.

The project will have a lasting legacy in the form of a resource pack which is being put together by the Theatre Royal with supporting music to be used as an education aid tied into the National Curriculum. The opera and resource pack will be free to Norfolk schools as part of the Music Hub & Norfolk Music Service across the county, and for sale to other music services and organisations around the country.

As part of that resource, the music for the opera was recorded at Wayland Academy in Watton on April 5 and 6 by the Music Hub. It was the first experience of working in a recording studio for the 20 gifted and talented young musicians, aged 14 to 18-years-old and Grade 8 achievers, who were accompanied by a small core of adult musicians (making an orchestra of around 35 in total), three soloists and a choir of 16 from the King’s Lynn Festival Chorus, who were standing in for the parts on the recording which will eventually be sung on stage by the children.

Gillian Shaw, the Norfolk Music Hub area manager working on the project, said: “A major part of this educational project was about offering the gifted and talented young musicians of Norfolk an opportunity to experience a professional recording situation.  To think that a band of young musicians could receive parts and turn around and record a 50-minute opera within a fortnight is almost unimaginable. They surpassed our expectations and their commitment, energy and absolute professionalism is amazing.”

In the run up to work starting in earnest on the project, the young pupils at the four Thetford schools will be given an introduction to opera music with a special performance of English Touring Opera’s  own children’s opera Paradise Planet, at Thetford Academy this Thursday (April 25), along with opera workshop sessions for teachers. Paradise Planet is a collection of ocean stories for children aged 8-14 and their families, and is also presented in Stage Two at Norwich Theatre Royal on Friday (April 26), along with English Touring Opera’s full-blown productions on the Theatre Royal stage of Rossini’s Elizabeth 1 on Thursday (April 25), Verdi’s Macbeth on Friday (April 26) and Mozart’s Idomeneo on Saturday (April 27).

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