Helios Collective: Formations Masterclasses

Following the successes of Formations 2015 where three new operas were worked on over a two-week period by Kasper Holten (Director of Opera, Royal Opera House), Robert Saxton (composer), Stephen Unwin (Dean of BADA), Stephen Barlow (Artistic Director, Buxton Festival), Bettina Bartz (dramaturg) and David Parry (conductor), Helios Collective return with their Formations Masterclass series this November.  


The 2016 masterclasses feature the likes of Mark Wigglesworth, Janis Kelly, Judith Weir, David Pountney, James Clutton, Stephen Medcalf, Jonathan Moore and Brian Dickie. The Formations series allow participants to engage with the development of three new operas with the aid of leading industry professionals.


The Formations series will conclude with a final performance and feedback session at Lilian Baylis House on Friday 25th November.


Helios Collective Artistic Director, Ella Marchment comments, Formations Masterclasses grew out of my desire to create opera while, at the same time, generating opportunities for artists to gain access to practical development.  I wanted to create ways for these artists to access leading industry professionals and to form the educational environment that I longed for when I first pursued a directing career. Through Formations we are not only able to simultaneously further the education of artists, but also further the development of the operatic genre for a contemporary audience.  Opera is the ultimate art form in the way that it combines all other art forms and it is my personal mission to see this genre survive and thrive. 


The three pieces selected for this year’s masterclasses are:


Dead Equal: In 2016, a barrage of criticism met the introduction of British Servicewomen into army combat roles. But in 1916, one British woman was already there, embedded in the Allied frontline. Flora Sandes was a public heroine. This November, her successors go operational.  Through the stories of three women, real and imagined, Dead Equal celebrates the courage and sacrifice of women in theatres of war, probing the cost and meaning of service; the force of class in shaping opportunity, and the disruptive power of a female identity forged in blood and sweat.


FOR the LOVE of THORSTEIN SHIVERFOR the LOVE of THORSTEIN SHIVER is the Albran breakfast cereal of fecal epiphanies. It is loosely based on the medieval Iclandic þættir “The Tale of Thorstein Shiver”. The convulsing bowls of its libretto have also squeezed through other eupeptic survivors including Gilgamesh, Genesis, Joyce, Solomon, skaldic-verse, gnostic-prose, Whitman and those little bits of sweetcorn that always get there somehow. 


Yellow Wallpaper: The Yellow Wallpaper is a short, chamber opera based on the story of the same name by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935). The story is based on a nameless young woman’s descent into psychosis as her mental health issues are left misunderstood. The woman and her physician husband, John, move into a spacious and airy mansion, which he believes will help her health to improve by undergoing the rest cure; a common treatment developed in the late 1800s for the handling of hysteria and other nervous illnesses.  With nothing to stimulate her mind, the woman becomes growingly obsessed with the yellow, distressed wallpaper that covers the room and her imagination begins to run wild as she starts to believe it is moving and coming alive. As her fascination with the wallpaper spirals out of control, so does her quest to break free.


This project is supported by Arts Council England, the International Opera Awards, English National Opera, the Hinrischen Foundation and The Fenton Trust. 


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