FEATURE: Streetwise Opera: The River Keeper | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Whilst the housing crisis rumbles on and such snappy titles as ‘generation rent’ taking centre stage in the headlines, the figures for the rise in homelessness continue to receive considerably less exposure. Yet as tradition has shown, when minorities lack a voice it often falls to artists and charities alike to creatively combine in order to find new ways to shed light on issues that may otherwise have been ignored. North East musical stalwart Bridie Jackson takes up this torch alongside acclaimed writer Nell Leyshon and director Annie Rigby in a unique collaboration with Streetwise Opera to compose and perform a brand new production for their upcoming season. For those unfamiliar with the genre Bridie says: “I hope that the music is fairly accessible. It is a lot shorter than most operas (less than an hour long) and although there is a classical influence to the piece, it definitely contains some more contemporary musical influences as well, such as gospel and folk.”

Streetwise Opera is an award-winning charity that uses music to help homeless people make a positive change in their lives. Through weekly musical programmes they help and engender confidence in their charges, creating productions which will cast them alongside professionals from the industry. Described as ‘awe-inspiring’ by the likes of The Times, they provide the small change to the lives of those whose day to day situations are ever changing; as well as giving them the chance to explore a creative endeavour that they wouldn’t normally get chance to dive into.

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I wanted the songs to be fairly dramatic and evocative but I was also keen for it to be as musically cohesive as possible

To kick off the 2014/15 season, the regional team will be showcasing their first original work: The River Keeper. A hopeful tale that focuses around a day in the life of a small town whose inhabitants follow the odd tradition of confiding their deepest hopes, worries and dreams to the river. Talking about her writing process for her first ever opera score Bridie explained: “I was initially daunted by the idea of it, but when I threw myself in, I found it a very interesting challenge, one that’s definitely developed my musicality and made me think about composing in a different way. Because opera is very plot focused and such a strong theatrical medium, I wanted the songs to be fairly dramatic and evocative but I was also keen for it to be as musically cohesive as possible. We are now in the final part of the process; devising the full score with The Arbour, and it’s really exciting hearing the music grow and develop.”

Bridie has spent a considerable amount of time with the Streetwise Opera members and she’s full of praise of the charity’s work. “Having spoken at length with some of the participants, I know that Streetwise has had a deep impact on many people’s lives, and provided a creative outlet that has been an important support to help them move on positively in their lives. It is an incredible organisation and I feel honoured to have been given the chance to work with them.” The River Keeper will premier as a double bill with Bridie Jackson And The Arbour on Wednesday 10th December at Gateshead Old Town Hall and Tuesday 16th December at Middlesbrough Town Hall.

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