Tell me about community opera…

One reason I was attracted to the TRACTION project was the feeling of exploring new territory. I really don’t know much about opera. I’ve not been in an opera house more than a handful of times, and then usually in connection with my work. On the other hand, my memories of those moments – The Queen of Spades in St Petersburg, Facing Goya in Valencia – are extraordinarily vivid, despite the passing years. I’ve seen some equally memorable community work, like Streetwise Opera, whom I first saw perform Mahler in Nottingham Council House. But this field is so new to me that I don’t even know what I don’t know. So I’m turning for help to those who do know about community opera.

  • Who’s making community opera?
  • What are the standout productions you remember?
  • What websites or books should I know about?
  • What approaches have been tried?

If you have answers to any of these questions (or to better questions I haven’t thought to ask) do let me know. You can comment below or email me though the contact page. Please don’t hesitate – I’m interested in anything and everything. Only then will I be able to work out what I think and how best to support the teams leading on the productions we’re planning. And I’ll write about what I discover here, as the project develops.

The photo is from a production of Don Giovanni by SAMP, a TRACTION partners, that I saw in Leiria Prison: another unforgettable experience.


  1. Dear Francois, Community and Participatory Opera is a whole field in itself. RESEO, the European Network of Opera, Music and Dance Education is made up of many of its pioneers, and promotes new works with the Young Music Audiences award for Best Opera and the new Participation award. I’ve just completed my PhD in the composition of opera for young people which touches on Community Opera, as well as Participatory Opera. “A Restless Art” was extremely useful in providing a framework to talk about the work. I can send the thesis to you if you like. What is a bit weird, is that community/participatory opera is not hugely known in the mainstream, yet the UK opera houses are currently world leaders in it: Glyndebourne, Opera North even Royal Opera are kind of the big hitters, and also initiated some of the pioneering works that others have followed. English Touring Opera is particularly skilled at operas for and with SEND audiences. Garginston, OperaSonic and Opera Circus also do fantastic work; the latter working a lot with trauma victims and war survivors.

  2. One of the most wonderful community operas I have seen was ‘We Are Shadows’, by John Barber and Hazel Gould, which they made for Spitalfields Music. There no longer seems to be any info on Spitalfields Music’s website, but I could put you in touch with John and Hazel if that would be useful. John and Hazel’s work is beautiful – wonderful music and text (in my opinion), and an absolute commitment to honouring the people that they work with. You can find John here:

  3. Cheltenham Music Festival commissioned a brand new community opera, ‘Across the Sky’, performed twice to full houses at 2019’s Festival.
    It was co-crated with the participants: primary school pupils, secondary school students, and a community choir established especially for the opera (and still going strong).
    More info here:

    Do get in touch if you want to know more – there’s lots more to say!

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