Katy Wright

Deputy Editor, Classical Music

First ‘Yorkshire opera’ to receive premiere

1:35, 14th November 2017

The first ‘Yorkshire opera’ will receive its world premiere at the University of Salford later this week.

Sung entirely in the county dialect, The Arsonists was written by the university’s professor of music Alan Williams, with a libretto by poet Ian McMillan.

The opera tells the tale of disgruntled residents of a south Yorkshire former mining town in which a distribution warehouse – now the town’s only employer – is burnt to the ground.

Professor Alan Williams said he found the project a challenge, as the dialect’s lengthy vowels went against the singers’ classical training.

He worked with Salford University linguist Phillip Tipton, who created a phonetic version of Ian McMillan’s libretto for the singers to follow.

Williams said: ‘If opera can’t represent all sections of society – not just the Dukes and Duchesses – and if it can’t talk about contemporary themes then it’s in danger of making itself irrelevant.

‘This is an attempt to write a contemporary English opera that can say something about Britain today and that’s accessible to a much larger group of people. We’ve tried to include an element of realism that you don’t normally find in opera, and there’s a lot of northern humour based on the way people talk to each other.

‘One of the reasons people see opera as being very elitist is because the performers are trained to sing using received pronunciation. They have to sing in a way that sounds very mannered – despite the fact that a lot of opera singers are in fact from the north – and if you try to deviate from that it goes against a lot of the training.’

The Arsonists will be performed by Heritage Opera and members of the BBC Philharmonic at Salford University’s New Adelphi Theatre on 18 November.

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