City gents, women racers, flappers, psychics, bankers, agents, reporters, Charlie Chaplins and even pigeons all appear as characters in the latest W11 Children's Opera production, 'Original Features'. This year this young but exceptional opera company take on a specially commissioned piece, with music by Julian Grant and libretto by Christina Jones celebrating the company’s 40th anniversary.
Julian Grant comments that “fuzzy animals and keeping it cutesy doesn’t interest me”, instead with Original Features Grant has created a simple and believable story of love, art, family, guilt, betrayal and struggle… a fiercely real narrative that the children performing can relate to.
The Carrington children live in a beautiful old house, their lives enriched with the joy and vitality of colour and creativity, brought up by two artist parents. Unable to support the large family, the parents move abroad and the kids are left with unkind selfish distant cousins. The house is almost sold and the colour is drained from the children’s lives, when their parents return it is not the happy reunion we expect. 'Original Features' offers a bittersweet ending... three of the Carrington children are left unable to forgive their parents. No big finales and jazz hands this year, it is the melancholy taste of real life.
Grant’s score is challenging, with unusual harmonies, and unexpected but beautiful melodic sequences. The cast tackle it brilliantly, with a confident and tuneful rendition, and some particularly impressive solos. However the strength of W11 Children’s Opera is the ensemble work, and when this big group of young voices comes together it is spectacular. This year the set, by Neil Irish, was enchanting; I particularly loved the painting of the housekeepers - which came alive when lit up, the characters posed singing behind the screen… an inventive and magical idea. As ever the band was phenomenal, led by Philip Sunderland.
W11 Children's Opera is a one in a million company, and it deserves every bit of support it gets. Year after year they succeed in making operatic repertoire and new music accessible to children, and better still provide all the ingredients for a sensational production. The kids have the time of their lives - I would know I've been there and done it, eight times over and could never forget the magical experience.