This page features a representative selection of part work by Cambridge Youth Opera. Please see Past Projects for a complete list of past activities, including our 10 productions and two performances with the English Touring Opera.
Our first major project involving composition took place during lockdown in the Spring of 2020. The young people who took part created work based on their interests, in six small groups mentored by the CYO team. The work was featured by the English National Opera and Arts Council England in an online exhibition of artwork produced by young people during the pandemic. See Digital Opera Making Workshops for the full work and a link to the exhibition. A sample is represented below. We are looking forward to developing this strand of work in our upcoming project, The Little Black Cat.
Vignettes of Lockdown (Digital Opera Making Workshops)
This song cyle composed and performed by a group of 14 – 19 year olds charts the progression of the lockdown in a series of character pieces. In The Moon, a shielding person walks at night. Hospital imagines a tired NHS worker at the end of many long days while the young people in Meet again looking forward to an uncertain future. The full cycle can be found under Digital Opera Making Workshops.
The Phoenix and the Zopera (Digital Opera Making Workshops)
These pieces are the work of two younger groups, aged 11 – 13. The Phoenix is a narrated dance piece for which the young people created a story, musical motifs, choreography and designs. The group creating the Zopera, set out to create a new artform, the family Zoom call as opera. Here we meet Iona, a teenager who has had enough of lockdown. The complete Zopera can be found under Digital Opera Making Workshops.
We are committed to helping all our singers develop healthy, age appropriate vocal practice and to extend their musical experience. Our singers range from those with little formal vocal training, through choral singers taking their first steps into stage performance, to ambitious young singers with an eye on a career in vocal music. We aim to ensure that everybody who sings with us grows in confidence and ability.
Sadly, we were unable to perform Hansel and Gretel as planned in March 2020 because of the COVID pandemic. In October 2020, we were able to photograph and record, with piano, some of the singers in a socially distanced setting. Here Gretel teaches Hansel to dance. [Photography and sound]
The Little Sweep involved singers at all levels of experience. In this scene the Children, aged 11 – 16 some of who are performing for the first time, are joined by student/conservatoire singers as the Sweeps and Miss Baggot, a CYO alumna. The Governess, Rowan, is sung by an 18 year old in her first opera performance. [Live performance video]
Developing the CYO chorus is as important to us as the solo singers – all receive vocal, musical and dramatic coaching. Our unauditioned choruse ranges from experienced choral singers to those who have never sung in public. Here the Bacchantes, aged 14 – 19, from Daphnis and Chloe plan how each will be the one to trap Daphnis. [Photography and live performance sound]
Movement and Dance
In all CYO projects, we work with young singers who often have little performance experience, on how to move effectively on stage. Where necessary, we employ choreographers and movement specialists to create and coach performers.
We placed Offenbach’s Daphnis and Chloe on Grantchester meadows in 1910, exploring how young women began to assert their rights in the early 20th century. This included transforming the Bacchantes of the original into the Cambridge Isadorables, young followers of Isadora Duncan. We worked with Duncan Dance specialist Julia Pond to give singers the opportunity to experience this seminal influence on contemporary dance, no matter whether they were experienced dancers or had never danced before
For The Hiding Tree, we worked with Julia Pond to create our multisinger Monster, seen here in rehearsal. This was a heavily movement based project, which required a small group of singers, mostly without previous dance experience to learn to move together, embrace dramatic gesture and even lift and carry another singer across the stage
In Hansel and Gretel we partnered with Cambridge Youth Dance Company and choreographer Kate Durrant who worked with a group of her dancers and CYO singers as the Witch and her Forest Familiars.
Costumes, set and props
CYO has involved young people in the design and making of costumes, set and props from our inception. Over the years, we have taken a variety of approaches to meet the needs of each production concept, with a central requirement that young people be able to realise a substantial part of the work and be able to recognise their work on stage. We work with professional designers where needed, have supported students building their portfolios and have provided stepping stones into the profession for a number of young designers and makers.
The Hiding Tree Monster was designed by a professional costumier and made by a large group of 12 – 16 year olds from the CYO production team, as well as in school workshops. The designer and choreographer worked closely to create costumes that supported the movement of the Monster and were able to made by the most inexperienced makers.
In deliberate contrast to The Hiding Tree‘s bold colours, The Little Sweep, performed in the same double bill , was kept largely monochrome. The majority of the work was carried out by a student designer, a sixth form costume maker and a 15 year old artist, with an enthusiastic group of 11 – 12 year olds covering everything with white paint.
For Brundibár, most famous for being performed in Terezín, we saw the opera as a dream or fantasy of the children in the concentration camp. The action played out below a distant silhouette of Prague – a memory of home. In contrast, the props were deliberately ramshackle. They appeared dreamed up and built by the children themselves, recreating their remembered lives
Daphnis and Chloe featured a living statue of the god Pan. We engaged a professional makeup artist to ensure an effective look (seen here without wig and horns). Pan’s plinth was created by our student designer who also designed the set pieces and backdrop of Grantchester Meadows. The backdrop made clever use of applique to enable its production by 14 – 16 year olds.
The design and making of all elements of The Magic Flute were carried out by the 15 – 18 year old CYO production team, who applied their creativity to come up with simple methods to create special effects. Here the Spirits wear high street staples, brought to life with fairy lights, and travel on a bicycle dressed with flowers, gauze and more lights.
For Hansel and Gretel, art students from Chesterton Community College created the forest floor, a large stencilled hessian cladding for the front of the stage, under the guidance of our young designer and an experienced professional designer who acted as mentor on the project. The workshop offered inspiration and career advice as well as making experience.
Stage Management and Lighting
A typical CYO production will be run by one or more experienced young stage managers, often sixth formers or students, supported by a team of younger ASMs. We provide hands on, practical training in all the elements required to manage all the elements of backstage work and to call the show. Several of our alumni are now working in professional theatre and opera.
Stage managers taking a break between shows during Daphnis and Chloe. On the left of this typical group is the lead for the show, a CYO alumna, studying stage management at the Lir Academy in Dublin. On the right is one of our youngest ever trainees, aged 12, enjoying the excitement of her first production.
CYO stage managers learn a range of transferrable skills relating to organisation, communication, leadership and teamwork.
Our performance venues have dictated what we are able to offer to young lighting designers and technicians. Most recently we have worked in partnership with the Storey’s Field Centre, enabling us to offer training for young designers and technicians on their state of the art lighting set up.
Lighting trainee getting his first taste at Storey’s Field
The result: the impact of lighting on a low budget fundraiser at Storey’s Field.