Silver Birch: A People's Opera (2017)
Silver Birch was commissioned by Garsington Opera and received its world premiere with three sold out performances during the 2017 season. It is an original story about courage and aspiration, centred on themes and issues of relationships and family ties which are tested when two boys go off to fight in a present-day war, while drawing upon Siegfried Sassoon's poetry for echoes of the past. Sassoon was a regular visitor to Garsington Manor in Oxfordshire during the First World War.
The dynamic creative team was led by Roxanna Panufnik (composer), Jessica Duchen (librettist), Karen Gillingham (director), Suzi Zumpe (vocal director) and Douglas Boyd (conductor).
The Silver Birch cast comprised 180 people including:
- 6 professional opera singers
- Garsington Opera Orchestra and student instrumentalists from Buckinghamshire Music Trust
- Garsington Youth Company (pupils aged 8-11 from our local partner schools; and singers and dancers aged 11-21)
- Garsington Adult Company
- Representatives from the military community
- The Foley Sound Design team from Pinewood Studios
BBC Arts followed the process form the first rehearsals through to the final rehearsals and produced Person 181, a 360-degree video experience that puts the viewer in the centre of the action. Venture behind the scenes, into dressing rooms and warm-ups, and even onto the opera stage itself!
"It is not only the fulfilment of a dream; this creative process, deeply collaborative at every level, has been entirely new to me, and it's one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences I've been lucky enough to encounter. The theme is the impact of war on soldiers and their families, tying together Siegfried Sassonn's World War I poetry and the experiences of those serving in modern warfare. It is designed to appeal to opera regulars and first-time attenders alike. It is fast-paced and action-packed; emotions run high and Roxanna Panufnik has written some incredibly beautiful music, as well as letting her hair down a bit in the battle scene!"
Jessica Duchen, librettist