The Opera Room

Installation

Artist Deborah Thomas

Composer Helen Ottaway

Sound designer Alastair Goolden

Musicians and voices Basira Ward (soprano), Melanie Pappenheim (mezzo-soprano), Caroline Radcliffe (contralto), Graham Shaw (tenor), Niall Hoskin (baritone), Helen Ottaway (harpsichord), Catherine Oldham (cello), Helen Warren (viola), Kelly McCusker and Caroline Bodimead (violins), Alistair Smith (horn)

Sound recording Alastair Goolden and Mike Furness

The Opera Room is a new form of opera created for galleries. It contains a myriad of moments which may be arranged in infinite combinations. Operatic fragments have been collected, composed, transposed, dissected and rearranged as an interactive installation. Visual material is scattered throughout the space, fragments of sound are invisibly placed. The performance of the opera comes about through the presence and movement of the audience. Each visitor or group of visitors creates their own unique and personal opera: their chosen paths around the space conjuring random patterns of music, sound imagery. The work is partly inspired by the life of John Olive, who established a tradition of summer operas, spanning a period of 40 years, at Shawford Mill on the River Frome in Somerset. Each year singers, musicians, producers, stage managers, needleworkers and cooks, professional and amateur, old and young came to Shawford to make an opera. Productions ranged from well known operas by Mozart and Verdi to works by contemporary composers. This long tradition has now come to an end and the mill building lies empty, though it still echoes with the ghosts of brocade and aria. Artmusic’s ‘virtual’ opera represents an abstraction as well as an extension of this and other forms of operatic practice.

The Opera Room received support from: Arts Council England (South West Arts’ Regional Arts Lottery Programme), Somerset District Council, Mendip District Council and Frome Town Council. Special thanks to Laura Ashley, Homebase, Quentin and Rowena Seddon of Shave Farm, John Olive and Ruth Phelps of Shawford Mill and all the friends of Shawford who contributed their memories and stories.

Performance history
2003 Cheltenham International Festival of Music; Frome Festival; Taunton Brewhouse

2004 Exeter Phoenix; BAC Opera