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Preview: The Electrictionary at Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival (London)

2:37, 1st August 2015

Early music makes its debut at the world’s biggest festival of new opera on 6 & 7 August, when period musicians will join with jazz and funk musicians in Kings Place Hall One to premiere new opera The Electrictionary, written by Alexis Bennett and librettist Timothy Knapman, and directed by Dominic Gerrard. 

Bennett is an active Baroque viola and vielle player, and an accomplished composer. He has scored over 45 films in the past 15 years, and his compositions have been broadcast at major film festivals around the world, including Cannes, London, Newport Beach, and Edinburgh.

The Electrictionary, Bennett’s first opera, was created to explore the power of language and evolution of new words through music: Knapman then expanded this idea into a full libretto. To draw parallels between the complex history of language, and of the many musical styles around us every day, the opera deliberately sets various styles of music side-by-side. 

Historical performing techniques are central to the mix: recitative will be accompanied by a harpsichordist using vintage synthesizer patches, alongside a continuo group of piano, an electric guitar, and triangle. Period string players use historical phrasing to accompany songs set with a full array of 21st-century compositional techniques – and avant-garde sections are set off against funk numbers in sharp chiaroscuro contrast. 

Singers familiar to early music audiences also feature in title roles: Jimmy Holliday, bass, seen at ENO and Opera North, as well as with EXAUDI, The Sixteen, and I Fagiolini, plays The Electrictionary’s main character, The Editor: a horrible dictator who bans all new words from language. 

Emily Atkinson, soprano (The Poet) is a busy period chamber recitalist, and appears frequently with The Tallis Scholars and the Sweelinck Ensemble. Polly May (mezzo: The Sage), who has appeared at the Proms and with the BBCSO, and Kirby Anne Hall (soprano: The Slave), seen with Pop-up Opera and Opera Erratica, round out the cast.

As part of the opera’s tie-in with language, the 28-strong group also plans to take the opera to songwriting workshops in public libraries in arts-deprived boroughs in the autumn. 

Bennett wants to use the project to help connect secondary school students with their local libraries by encouraging them to make music with the band, and perform their own songs in a re-created production of the show.

To raise funds to help with production costs and the workshops, the group has set up a crowdfunding page [https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-electrictionary/], complete with video trailer!

Tickets for performances on 6 & 7 August are available at Kings Place [ http://www.kingsplace.co.uk/whats-on-book-tickets/music/the-early-music-experiment-the-electrictionary ]

To listen to an interview with Alexis Bennett about The Electrictionary, visit https://soundcloud.com/alexis-bennett-uk/resonance-fm-interview-july-2015

Katie de la Matter

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