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Opera Goes Back To School

by Matthew Carter

(for Clapham Society newsletter)

One of the forces that drives Clapham’s St Paul’s Opera (SPO) is its sense of community – as was established last year in the Skipton Grassroots Giving Awards. St Paul’s Opera (SPO) was one of the organisations recognised in Skipton’s nationwide campaign.

Rehearsals are now in full swing for this year’s opera festival – Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro – and, once again, the Clapham community will be deeply involved.

SPO continues its connection with Morley College, in neighbouring Lambeth North. Founder and producer (and this year, singing the role of Marcellina), Clapham’s Tricia Ninian is an alumna; musical director Panaretos Kyriatzidis (known as Pan) leads Morley’s Introduction to Opera Performance course; ‘almost’ local resident, Stockwell’s Alexandra Dinwiddie (understudy for Cherubino) is also an Opera Performance alumna; and Owain Evans, (singing the role of Antonio), proprietor chiropractor at BackSpace in Clapham Park Road, is currently one of Pan’s people at Morley.
The chorus includes no fewer than three Clapham residents (and Clapham Society members) – Sue Roberts, Juliet Poyser and Tony Bell – while the ‘backroom’ team includes two more members: in charge of wardrobe, Karen Elliott, and Suzanne Gordon-Brown, adding invaluable help to marketing.

But perhaps the most significant community-based aspect of this year’s performance is an outreach programme designed to introduce opera to primary school children in Clapham.

Inspired by opera lover and SPO stalwart Judith Strong, the programme is being run by a regular SPO performer, Sophie Horrocks.

If you think school kids and opera go together as well as fish fingers in a Michelin-starred restaurant, think again. Judith Strong said: ‘It’s regrettable in this country that the media always portrays opera as an elite art form. I can vouch for its accessibility. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, I took dozens of children from a state primary school in Tooting to schools’ matinees at the Royal Opera House. For the price of £4, a charity subsidised ticket, they were able to see stars such as Placido Domingo in Tosca from the front of the stalls.

They took to even the most difficult operas like ducks to water and couldn’t wait to make a return visit. I still treasure the moment on the rush hour tube when a city gent, seeing the familiar red programme, asked somewhat incredulously what they thought of it and a lively discussion ensued on the merits of The Magic Flute versus Medea.’

‘The local community is at the heart of everything we do at SPO,’said Tricia Ninian. ‘Our outreach programme in schools is a really exciting development which, we hope, will create a new generation of opera lovers. Who knows, it might even inspire a future diva or two…’

Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) will be held at St Paul’s Church, Rectory Grove, SW4 0DX on Friday 5 July and Saturday 6 July, with picnic facilities before the performance and during the interval (cover performance on Thursday 4 July).

Tickets can be bought online now via the website, www.stpaulsopera.org, or at St Paul’s parish office from Monday 3 June. Enquiries by email on info@stpaulsopera.org or by phone on 07774 689709

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