Helios Collective is an opera/music theatre company run by young people originally based at King’s College London. I joined their latest project, Formations, at a last-minute composition workshop; not last-minute in the sense of ‘unprepared’ (it was quite the opposite) but because the cast and musicians were generously running through three new short operas between the dress rehearsal and the first night.
First up in Formations was The Yellow Wallpaper (Charlotte Perkins Gilman) set to music by Grace Evangeline Mason, still an undergrad at RNCM. This wasn’t the first setting I’ve seen of this striking little story, but Grace’s version leapt out of the page with particular vigour; I loved the musically animated wallpaper. In Dead Equal, Rose Miranda Hall (composer) and Lila Palmer (librettist) approached the hard-to-ignore theme of WW1 with some ingeniously chosen material about women serving in the military, then and now; subject matter that could stretch much further than the twenty minutes available. Composer Alex Paxton had written/compiled his own libretto, For the Love of Thorstein Shiver, set to music with an extraordinary soundburst, an incessant tide of ideas. The musical performances were generally excellent.
It is just as well that this miraculous little collective has sprung to life, because I’m not sure how much the major opera companies are doing these days for this generation of unprecedently talented twentysomething composers who have a strong interest in writing operas. I liked the fact that Helios had allowed the composers to get on with their chosen subject matter, and not to bog them down in constricting early workshops and other exercises. As someone said to me recently, “What if Benjamin Britten and Montagu Slater had had to apply to the Jerwood Opera Writing Programme in order to begin work on Peter Grimes…?”
Illustration – Musical Director Noah Mosley and part of his hard-working 5-piece band, in KCL’s gorgeous chapel. This photo taken accidentally by my phone,er, nevertheless seems to be making its own point about the radiance of the musical score in operatic situations [???]