Rough for Opera (Photo credit Lucas Marti Padilla) 

Opera. It’s not for everyone. A commonly held but inaccurate preconception thought by many, yet Second Movement are about to change that. This week I chatted with Second Movement producer Abigail Toland about their innovative new event on the opera scene, and how anyone can come along and enjoy it too.

Opera company Second Movement, who specialise in a rarely performed and risk taking repertoire of performance have produced Rough for Opera. This is a scratch night for young composers and companies, where they have the chance to present their work to a live audience, regardless of experience, previous successes or a particular stage within their artistic development.

“We wanted to provide a performance platform for works which might otherwise find it difficult to receive a performance on a theatrical stage,” explains Toland. “Our aim was to provide a supported developmental stepping stone for composers and opera makers to try out new work and ideas relatively risk free in practical terms.”

This concept is simply a dream for any young opera companies or composers either starting out or already fairly established. Second Movement provide a theatrical space to perform (the Cockpit Theatre, Marylebone), lighting and sound technicians, a stage manager and many other tools to successfully bring ideas to life.

“In 2011 there seemed to be a real burgeoning of interest from young and emerging composers,” says Toland. “These composers weren’t working on commission, and often they were putting the work on themselves: making opera on their own terms, really inspiring.”

“We look for composers with a real flair and commitment or potential for writing for the voice. Great opera is usually driven by a great story, so that’s also an important consideration” elaborates Toland. “We’re also looking for proposals which really embrace and want to make use of the opportunities taking part presents, we ask all applicants to let us know how they feel taking part will benefit them and their new and exciting work.”

A perfect example of a Rough for Opera composer who pushes the boundaries of conventional opera is Caroline Wilkins, who will be performing on the next scratch night on 17th November with an antique gramophone. “Wilkins first performed in Rough for Opera in 2012 with a sound theatre work called Zaum: Beyond Mind… she is an amazing performer, though not a traditional opera singer and this piece is different every time it’s performed as she and her co-composer improvise with each other, so it’s really exciting to watch.” Toland then goes on to tell me about one of Second Movement’s standout performances, a triple bill including the UK premiere of The Knife’s Tear by Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů performed in a former banana warehouse in Covent Garden, it appears opera as an art form isn’t as conventional and time-honoured as we thought!

But do you really need to know your librettos and contraltos to really enjoy Rough for Opera? “You definitely don’t need to know anything about opera before you come to enjoy the evening!” says Toland, “We programme a wide range of work with great variety, we hope to really celebrate this diversity and enthusiasm. At each event we programme three contrasting works: one piece might be quite traditional, another might be very experimental but immediately accessible, another could be a real genre-bender… so it definitely doesn’t fit within that narrow preconception of opera!”

It seems to me that Rough for Opera is a great way for audiences, both avid opera-goers and opera-virgins, to encounter new contemporary work and to be able to engage directly with its makers, thanks to the Q&A sessions after every event. These sessions “are very open and relaxed, and cover a real range of questions reflecting the audience, and these conversations continue in the bar afterwards! I think most importantly the atmosphere is really informal and accessible to everyone who comes.”

Over the years Rough for Opera has become an established and exciting new platform for contemporary opera, and one which I believe all budding composers should consider. “Second Movement has always had a commitment to supporting young and emerging artists and Rough for Opera is an extension of that [and] we’re delighted that in three years we’ve been able to support nearly thirty new operas and composers through Rough for Opera!” With countless exciting and inventive interpretations of the classic art form, and a relaxed, informal atmosphere too, it seems as though Rough for Opera really is the perfect choice for both seasoned opera-goers and newbies alike to enjoy an evening of inventive, contemporary work. So, what are you waiting for? Get down to the Cockpit Theatre (not the banana warehouse) and enjoy!

Second Movement’s tenth Rough for Opera scratch night is on Mon 17 November at the Cockpit Theatre, Marylebone.