Roughly forty years ago, I started work on my first ever stage opera. It was being written for a school in Canterbury - not an especially musical school, one of the old 'secondary moderns', with rather basic facilities. The project was under the aegis of Kent Opera's education department, so we had at least a professional director (Amanda Knott) MD (Tim Dean) and baritone (sorry I can't remember, but very good.) However everything else was done by the kids, and it was inevitably a bit of a struggle at times.
But, fast-forward to now, and that opera, The Black Spider, has become my most frequently performed stage piece. It has been produced in many European countries, and quite a few times too in North America. The productions get ever better, it seems to me; and that was certainly true of this weekend's WNO Youth Opera performances, in a technically and musically excellent version directed by Rhian Hutchings (designer Bethany Seddon, lighting Ace McCarron. ) It was a revelation to hear the band parts, designed to be honked by school wind players, performed with velvety expertise by members of WNO's resident orchestra. The choral singing was also I think the best I've heard, to the extent that I recognised some of the harmonies I'd written all those decades ago, as it were for the first time.
In a pre-concert talk, Rhian and I pondered why, when many youth operas are devised all over the place, this one has stayed the course. Her first thought really interested me - that The Black Spider was properly published after its debut, allowing producers to find it, rarely the case with school projects. (So thank you for doing that in 1985, Novello & Co). We also agreed that it's an advantage for such an age group to include many eye-catching but short roles. And to make the language and story timeless, avoiding attempts at youth culture and speech - something I wouldn't be able to do anyway, since it changes all the time.
Pictured - and what a grand building to appear in, the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay, home of Welsh National Opera.