‘Venus and Adonis’ is the earliest surviving opera in English, written for King Charles II at the height of his power. Scenes from court life were set to music by the seventeenth-century composer John Blow. Elizabeth Kenny and Theatre of the Ayre performed the work with schoolchildren between the ages of 6 and 16 in York, Southampton and Oxford. As boy trebles more often star in early music there was an emphasis on spotlighting the wealth of talent and quality of girls’ voices.
“The performances of all the professionals were impressive and highly entertaining but the children really stole the show. Not opera as I know it but proof that it can be for all ages and tastes, and that Britain really has got talent!” (Oxford Daily Information, January 2011: review of performance in the Sheldonian Theatre.)
During the workshops, young people learned about life in Restoration England, sang a song from the opera and composed a piece of music for a missing scene in the opera. They also learned a Restoration country dance. Here is some of the feedback from the participants who took part in the project:
“It was funny and fun and also taught me a lot of things”
“I learnt that an opera is where you sing your lines instead of saying them”
“I enjoyed listening to the story”
The SHM Foundation helped to support this project in the planning and delivery. A number of additional funding partners were also brought together: Arts Council England, the National Centre for Early Music and the University of Southampton.
A new edition by Bruce Wood, published by Stainer and Bell for the Purcell Society, was used in schools and in professional rehearsal as a springboard for improvisation and to connect young people involved with unfamiliar music. The National Centre for Early Music in York developed and resourced a supporting education package that is available to download on the NCEM site.
Theatre of the Ayre toured ‘Venus and Adonis’ to a number of venues across the UK. The York performance was recorded by the BBC and was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in September 2010. The Wigmore Hall performance was recorded by Wigmore Hall Live and released in January 2011. For more information click here
“Sophie Daneman is a languid Venus and Roderick Williams is an ardent Adonis. Elin Manahan Thomas is an ideally light Cupid… Jason Darnwell’s virile Huntsman is a bit of a shock when he hurls out plenty of characterful verve… Not just a nice document of a good concert but a fine recording in its own right.” (The Gramophone, May 2011)