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5 Operas


5 Operas launched at Epping Hall, Essex, UK in June this year. We couldn’t make it to the launch but logged on, watched, and listened in stunned delight. I did post some of my thoughts to art lists at the time but wanted to draw attention to the operas again as they explore the contributory and collaborative possibilities of the Internet in such a fresh and direct way.

The operas are the result of an internet call for opera libretti, exactly 100 words in length, selected and set to music by Michael Szpakowski, sung by students from Epping Forest College and year 5 students from Chipping Ongar Primary School and finally visualised for the web by Michael.
‘Far from being a tokenistic “outreach” project, this work made serious demands on all the participants, which they passed with flying colours.’- Lewis Lacook

In the Operas, we hear kids being allowed to sing new songs that relate in unlikely but very tangible ways to everyday life: songs without sentiment. Songs laughing about the guy who gets drunk on cranberries or pondering perspectives on telepathic communication with aliens; the girls who try to forget their lives by shopping for shoes, while the tabloids talk down to everyone they know, and no one seems that bothered. A fox and a hen miraculously spend an un-murderous evening together while George Washington, oblivious, cogitates on being and nothingness. Lewis Lacook’s exquisite love poem between cup and water.

I was reminded of a double CD that I took out of Walthamstow Library (North East London) a couple of years ago, recordings of old folk tunes, songs and stories from across England and Scotland made by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger. These stories and songs were born in contained geographic regions into a slower pace of life and a slower rate of cultural consumption. Stories of the particular, passing through archetype, dream, and myth for protest, human solidarity, survival, and pleasure.

Similarly to the 5 Operas, these recordings expressed, in precise and familiar detail, what it is like to be alive and responsive in the world and what it means to share this experience. Epic theatre’s Bertolt Brecht wrote, ‘There are times when you have to choose between being a human and having good taste..’ I suspect that these works will never be described as tasteful. They pay far too much attention to the details of what it is to be human.

Nov 2003