SURVIVING SELF-ISOLATION: RECOMMENDATIONS FROM ALISON BARTON | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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April would have been a month packed with excellent gigs, theatre and comedy shows – many of which we’d have previewed and reviewed. We didn’t want to ignore the contribution these artists (and promoters) make to the region, so we asked some of them to give you a few tips on how you can spend your time in isolation.

Alison Barton is Artistic Director of Opera Sunderland, who were about to embark on a new production. She talks about her experiences of staying inspired.

So there we were. After a mammoth effort to secure funding, a frenzy of activity to build a schedule, recruit a cast and chorus, we were there. The venue was booked, the orchestra hired – the works. Everything was in place to reveal a brand new opera right in the middle of Sunderland. The new piece, The Soldier’s Return, featuring a libretto by poet Jacob Polley and music by Marcos Fernandez, was all set to be a real blinder. The libretto was entirely based on the powerful words of local military veterans from many conflicts, and we were bursting to share it with the world.

Then…social isolation.

Suddenly the notion of gathering a full cast and audience in one place became the thing we could no longer do. The creative mind, however, does not respect a curfew: human imagination defies containment…but both could always use a little help, especially in the strange times we are living through.

Confined to quarters, I’ve been sure to stay in touch with those I love. I’ve sown vegetable seeds, tidied, worked online, crocheted the best part of a blanket and begun planning for ‘afterwards’. But what about staying inspired?

The thing about working on a world premiere is that no one knows it yet, except we happy few who have read the score. There’s no recording to listen to, as it’s never been performed – that’s kind of the point. At Opera Sunderland, we know the thrill of revealing a new work and the excitement of hearing and seeing it emerge as it is gradually put together by the cast and the creative team. We did it in 2015, when we commissioned and premiered Miracle! – an Opera of Two Halves, again by Marcos Fernandez, with a libretto by David Almond.

So to keep myself excited and inspired, I’ve been treating myself to samples of our creators’ other works on YouTube, to keep me in the mood. Jacob Polley’s readings of his celebrated Jackself are just ravishing. Delicious, evocative words read out in Jacob’s beautiful, gentle, unassuming voice – it’s a real treat for the soul. I’ve also been accessing Marcos Fernandez’s exhilarating collection Piano Underscore II. Much of the material in this album sprang from his work with us at Opera Sunderland, especially the track Sunderland, which is breathtaking and features lovely footage of the city. Anyone who was involved in Miracle! will also recognise echoes of our opera in the massively uplifting track In Barcelona.

These works are truly joyful and I commend them to everyone. Listening to them is a real tonic in these strange and uncertain days. It also reminds me how wise we were to commission these two artists and how great it will be when we can finally share the secret of their latest opera with the world.

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