Children's Opera

In 2009 I worked with children from three North east London schools, to create the libretto for an opera. Our story was drawn from the archaeology of and Iron Age site in Epping Forest, so we had lots of fun imagining battles between Celtic tribes and invading Romans!

The children then worked with composer John Webb, musical director Russel Hepplewhite and stage director and project manager Virginia Rushton to compose the music and stage the piece.

It was simply wonderful and all the young performers and musicians were stunning. I hope they’ll all remember it for a long, long time. I know I will.

Click to read the libretto

Ambresbury Battle - a story in the earth

Scene 1: Prologue

A small group of children sit on the top of an Iron Age fort. They are more and more caught up in the atmosphere of the place as they speak, looking out towards the audience.

Child 1: We found a mound

Child 2: A mound in the forest

Child 3: A massive mound with moat around, all filled with leaves

Child 4: Was the mound a hippy hideout?

Child 1: Was the moat a fiery dragon’s pit?

Child 2: Did walking trees come here to flee a flood?

Child 3: Did cave men fight while hungry monsters ate the forest?

Trinovantes: Standing behind the children, whisper

Music under voices (1) Moon falls moon flies

Suns sink suns rise

In the Earth our story lies

Almost as if the children are hypnotising themselves with their own words

Child 1: We found a mound..

Child 2: A mound in the forest..

Child 3: Where people lived..

Child 4: Hunted and traded…

Child 1: Fought and farmed…

Child 2: Made swords

Child 3: and bracelets…

Child 4: Laughed and sang…

All: All together, all one tribe.

Child 1: Breaking the spell A tribe needs a chief. That’s me!

Girl: Enters And I’ll be the chieftan’s wife. Come on, I nearly got lost.

Children run off, led by Girl, shouting and laughing

Trinovantes Chorus (1a) Moon falls moon flies

Suns sink suns rise

In the Earth our story lies

In the Earth our story lies

In the Earth our story lies

With the chanting of this last line, the Trinovantes’ voices change from ghostly to real flesh and blood, and they all open their eyes and look directly at the audience

In the Earth our story lies!

In the Earth our story lies!

Scene 2: Hill Fort Market Place

Coming to Life Music (2)

From the frozen stare of the last line of Scene 1 the Trinovantes come to life and step forward one by one to introduce themselves and take up their position in the market place. The pace of introductions accelerates through the main characters until all those on stage are telling the audience their name

Chieftan: My name is Gold Dog … I’m the Chieftain

Chieftan’s Wife: I’m Sleek Pony … and I’m the Chieftain’s wife.

Finn the Foreigner: My name is Finn – Finn the Foreigner

The Inventor: I’m called Brainstorm – I invent things

The Mirror Maker: I’m Silver Brow – I make mirrors

Senior Druid: I’m Druid Red Beard – Senior Druid

Trainee Druid: I’m Druid Moon – the Trainee Druid.

Wolf Child: I’m Wolf Child – sometimes I’m a child and sometimes, not.

All the other Trinovantes say their names all at once. [Each child should have a Trinovante name.]

Tthey take up their position in the market place

All: Loudly Together we are the Trinovantes!!

Then, from their positions in the market scene they sing the Tribal chant altogether followed by songs from each group – Blacksmiths, Horsewomen etc.

All: Trinovantes Chant (3) We are the Trinovantes

We are strong

We are the Trinovantes

No-one proves us wrong.

We are the Trinovantes.

We can build and we can hunt

Our swords are sharp

Our horses, swift.

We are the Trinovantes!

Immediately Trinovantes’ market place comes to life. People arguing, bartering, leading horses, blacksmiths hammering etc….

Blacksmiths’ Song (3a) We’re the blacksmiths

We love fire!

Fire, burning, bright and hot,

Violent red and vicious orange,

Blood-maroon and goose bump blue.

Metal melts to silvery liquid,

Holding mayhem, chaos, death.

Horsewomen’s Song (3b) Horsewomen love

The thunder of hooves

The swishing of tails,

The tossing of manes.

Our horses are wild,

And faster than wind.

Their hooves cut the earth,

Their breath stings like flame!

Hunters’ Song (3c) We’ve known the forest all our lives,

We know its tracks and patterns.

Mouse holes, beetle paths,

All its tiny details.

We live in all its seasons,

Summer breath, winter chill.

Bee’s buzz, rain’s patter,

All its tiny details.

We’ve known the forest all our lives.

Bards’ Song (3d) We are the bards!

Singers, poets, storytellers,

We know the rousing strength of words

And music’s power to move.

We sing the songs,

We tell the stories,

We hold the memory of our tribe.

Watching all that happens.

Bards look around meaningfully at everyone on stage and in the audience. [From here on the Bards are almost always on stage, to one side, observing and occasionally commentating on the action]

Trinovantes Chant (Reprise (3)) We are the Trinovantes.

We are strong

We are the Trinovantes

No-one proves us wrong.

We are the Trinovantes,

And together we are STRONG!

Druids’ Chant begins under the Tribal Chant calling everyone to speak to the Gods by the sacred tree

Druids’ Chorus (4) We Druids call you to the sacred tree

To hail the world you cannot see,

The hidden weft on which all life is wove,

All flesh, all blood, all hate and love.

Hail the gods of Forest, Earth and Sun

Your power binds all life as one.

The sacred tree is waiting,

You must come.