M Bennett, Music & Musicians
Folk o' Blewbury have been at it again. It is just four years since
the people of this Oxfordshire Village which has a population of
only 1,400 mounted their own opera from scratch when they commissioned
and performed Richard Blackford's Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
That work has now been played by quite a few other groups and is
currently being turned into an animated TV film for the United States.
had all begun some years earlier, when the villagers produced Noyes
Fludde with such success that they wanted something to follow
it and could find nothing suitable. After Sir Gawain it took
them a little while to recover but when they had the local impresario
Peter Saunders looked around for another composer prepared to write
a work for the forces they had available - all amateurs but a great
many of them. Eventually he was drawn to the work of Gary Carpenter,
a Londoner born in 1951, who is Musical Director of the London School
of Contemporary Dance and most widely known for his score for the
musical version of The Streets of London, seen at the Theatre
Royal, Stratford and Her Majesty's last year. Carpenter invited
The Streets of London librettist, Ian Barnett, to collaborate
again and they settled on the Hans Anderson tale The Snow Queen.
Barnet felt that though it was a fairy tale which had no 'morals'
to offer it could pose a few questions about the maturing of a young
child into adulthood.
production team were the same as for Sir Gawain. Olga Latham
conducted, Ron Freeborn produced, while Roy East once again created
most original and effective sets to go into Blewbury Church. Work
began on assembling the cast, orchestra chorus and stage crew last
summer, and in the end over 200 people were directly involved.
set out to write a score that would not be too difficult for amateur
performers but because of its size and variety of detail would not
sound inhibited. He had an orchestra of over seventy which included
electric guitar, recorder group, Melodicas and a Fender Rhodes electric
piano. Of course it did not all come for nothing, and grants for
the commission came from the Arts Council and WH Smilth. The biggest
single other expense proved to be preparing the various parts for
singers and orchestra. By the end total copyists and photo copying
charges to the necessary standard had added up to £4,000 even
though a lot of the work was done on a voluntary basis.
I visited Blewbury during the first weekend of the New Year rehearsals
were in the final stages. First night was 5 January, and it was
clear that the Blewbury enthusiasts had been given a rich meal to
digest, some were even wondering if they might not have bitten off
a little more than they could chew. It was a far more complex work
than Sir Gawain, though skilfully and tunefully written.
the end the five performances were all sold out despite some problems
with colds among the cast and the now notorious early January blizzard
sweeping down at the end of the week, which meant that there were
a few empty places in the orchestra for the last two nights. The
whole remarkable achievement was filmed during its development and
is to be subject of a substantial ITV programme due to be networked
| archive index