On Tuesday I saw, and thoroughly enjoyed an enchanting, pared down, moving version of Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice (runs until Sunday 26 January) and it ticks so many education boxes that even Ofsted would surely approve.
English Pocket Opera Company (EPOC) was founded by Mark Tinkler in 1993 as a touring company. For the last ten years or so it has focused entirely on children and education. This year’s opera, the company’s seventh, is Orpheus and it’s an imaginative collaboration with nine Central St Martins BA Performance Design and Practice students who have designed eight different sets – each of them stunning – for the promenade show in different, often unlikely corners of their converted granary building at King’s Cross. Children in Camden schools are warmly encouraged to see this show because it’s phase 2 of an education project which involves all 55 schools in the borough.
Phase 1 took place last term when EPOC, commissioned by Camden, took a one hour introduction to opera in general and to Orpheus in particular to the 10,000 children in those 55 schools.
Phase 3 involves choirs and instrumental players from Camden schools coming together in Royal Albert Hall on March 17to present a short version of Orpheus in which 2000 children will sing. And finally during phase 4, EPOC, will work with schools across the borough to help them mount their own productions of Orpheus – writing arias, choruses, designing sets and costumes and performing their work to parents.
It is all a terrific achievement for EPOC but Camden deserves huge pat on the back too for taking music education seriously despite all the political pressures not to. “They still have a central music service and every school is signed up to it” says Tinkler, whose company is based in a Camden primary school. “And it’s because the schools are all linked together by the Camden Music Service that projects like ours work. In areas where most schools now function as autonomous academies there’s far less scope for collaboration.”
I hope other boroughs – and indeed the government – are listening.
So warmest congratulations to all concerned for a project which provides excellent music and performing arts education for school students at several levels and also offers an unusual focus to design students – not to mention work opportunities for three young opera singers, a fine violinist pianist/ MD and numerous back stagers and other cast members including a chorus. It is also good to see the designers in non-singing roles as additional actors too.
Meanwhile I still have Gluck’s lovely music (supported with a bit of Mozart and Offenbach – nice touch) rattling round in my head and it will be a long time before I forget the emotion of Paul Featherstone’s Orpheus singing the wonderful famous lament after losing Eurydice (Pamela Hay – lovely work) for the second time as huge spiral structures by Isabella Van Braeckel and Eimear Monaghan drop dismally to the ground around him.