If seeing seven- to 11-year-olds perform an opera wasn’t impressive enough, how about one they had written entirely themselves?
That is exactly what friends and family of Grantham Preparatory School pupils were treated to at this year’s summer show at the Guildhall.
Since September, the school’s students have been busy putting together all aspects of their opera, entitled ‘World At War’ and inspired by the suitably dramatic stories of two heroic First World War figures.
The idea came about after head of music Sian Banfield joined teachers from other schools at a Royal Opera House course, where they were instructed on how to write their own opera and then encouraged to take this teaching back into their own classrooms.
Confident that her pupils were up to the task, this is what Mrs Banfield did, letting them take charge of the creative process.
“The most amazing thing is that they have written it all themselves – that includes the music which is performed by students in the orchestra,” said Mrs Banfield. “They have also taken on backstage roles, hair and make-up, set design and all the lighting, with 11-year-old Ella Coleman controlling the lighting desk. It is teaching them a range of skills.”
Whatever our students do they always give it their allSian Banfield
Through the project the children have also learned during history lessons the amazing stories of Edith Cavell and Hedd Wyn, who have then become the lead characters in their opera, portrayed by 11-year-olds Ellen Bloomfield and Peter Braybrook.
Already a highly respected training nurse, Edith enabled 200 Allied soldiers to escape German-occupied Belgium during the war by hiding them in the basement of her Brussels training hospital, and helping them cross the border into the Netherlands. However, when the Germans discovered her actions she was arrested in August 1915 and sentenced to execution by firing squad.
Identifying this tragic tale of an inspirational woman as fitting for an opera, they have also incorporated the rumoured twist that one of the firing squad refused to shoot Edith, and was shot himself.
Another remarkable person presented in their opera is Welsh poet Hedd Wyn, who enjoyed success at many of the country’s competitive arts festivals, known as eisteddfodau. However, in the same year that he entered the National Eisteddfod, Wyn enlisted in the army so that his younger brother wouldn’t have to, and was killed at the Battle of Passchendaele in July 1917.
In September, his work ‘Yr Arwr’, or The Hero, was announced as the winner at the National Eisteddfod’s ‘Chairing of the Bard’ ceremony, and his death only announced after three trumpet summons for the poet to come forward went unanswered. In tribute, a black cloth was draped over the empty chair – another moving scene at the heart of the school’s performance. While some might have questioned whether opera is for children, Mrs Banfield points out that you only need to see the pupils’ enthusiasm to know otherwise. She said: “The children have all just jumped into it. But I’m not surprised – whatever our students do they always give it their all.”