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23rd July 2021

Northern Ireland Opera commissions an ambitious new teen/young adult opera

Northern Ireland Opera commissions an ambitious new teen/young adult opera written by Fionnuala Kennedy and composed by Neil Martin

Northern Ireland Opera has commissioned a new teen/young adult opera which is being created in collaboration with campaign groups led by young people experiencing housing stress across Northern Ireland and will be performed by Northern Ireland Opera and the Ulster Youth Orchestra in 2022 with workshop versions of the piece being performed at the Belfast Children’s Festival in 2022.

Fionnuala Kennedy commented, ‘This new opera is inspired by the difficult situations faced by families in housing stress here and the incredible activism from these young people to speak their truth to power, expose the issues and offer solutions to transform the potential for housing and equal rights here. I will have a front row seat to a number of campaign groups led by young people looking at housing rights and housing provision (or lack thereof) in the north of Ireland. These young people include those living in sheltered accommodation, refugees and those seeking asylum and those in housing stress, not only campaigning for housing rights locally but supporting and working with other housing and human rights activists in Cork, Galway, Edinburgh, London, Cape Town and Johannesburg.  I’m always grateful to get the opportunity to be inspired by and create work for and about young people – this bold new opera celebrates the resilience, activism and power of a generation trying to change our world for the better.’

Composer Neil Martin said, ‘To be now engaging in the first steps of writing this new opera is exhilarating beyond words – collaborating with new partners in production, outreach and performance, addressing essential subject matter…the potential to challenge both young people and society as whole through this opera is limitless.’

Northern Ireland Opera have been able to commission this new opera with funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s Stability and Renewal Fund.  The opera is being written and composed by Fionnuala Kennedy and Neil Martin in collaboration with campaigners who are mostly between the ages of 13 and 19. Northern Ireland Opera will perform this opera with the young musicians of the Ulster Youth Orchestra, which is another unique element to this project.  As the piece is being created specifically for the 13-19 year old age group, it is important for this audience to see themselves reflected on stage in all facets of theatre-making.

This is a piece created by and speaking for teens and young adults from Northern Ireland who are of a similar age, but whose different life experiences can, we hope, enhance each other’s understanding and engagement with the creative and performance process, amplifying their message and music to a wide audience.

We are currently working with opera singer and educator Emma Morwood, who is writing and creating outreach programmes linked to this production, both during the creating and the presentation stages of the work.  These programmes will be open to all participants involved with the production, including collaborators, youth orchestra players and Northern Ireland Opera’s outreach partners in Belfast and beyond. We are also working closely with the Welcome Organisation to ensure that our interactions with young people experiencing housing stress are appropriately and sensitively managed.

Paula Klein, General Manager of UYO said, “The Ulster Youth Orchestra is thrilled to be a partner in Northern Ireland Opera’s new youth opera commission.  Collaborating with writer Fionnuala Kennedy and composer Neil Martin will be a wonderful experience for our young players and we are so excited to be able to offer them this unique opportunity after such a long time in musical hibernation. We’re very much looking forward to being a part of it!”

Cameron Menzies, AD of Northern Ireland Opera said “For a long while now I have noticed the lack of work designed specifically for the teen/young adult age groups in relation to music and storytelling through opera.   Opera companies generally focus a lot of outreach attention on very young and early school age children.  These programs are designed to open up young people’s experiences within the arts and with storytelling through music so I feel we must look at how we develop these programs to also include and engage with the ages of 13 – 19.  Our new commission will deal with this directly, by including these age groups in the creation of an opera that is designed specifically with them in mind.   We are delighted to be working with the unique and powerful talents of Fionnuala Kennedy (Libretto) and Neil Martin (Composer). While this opera will be based very much within the young voices of Northern Ireland, we know that an opera like this will also have a far-reaching global impact.’’

Jo Wright, ACNI added, ‘’This new commission is supported through our Stability and Renewal Programme for Organisations, a vital emergency funding scheme funded by the Department for Communities, to help arts and cultural organisations respond to the impacts of the Covid-19 crisis, including helping them to continue producing creative work and plan for recovery.  This funding has enabled Northern Ireland Opera to gather together a wealth of talent to develop a brand new work that gives voice to young people who are facing extremely difficult circumstances.  This important work demonstrates the power of collaboration and in using the arts as a tool to open discussion around challenging subjects and stimulate change for the better.  Congratulations to everyone involved and we look forward to experiencing this new opera in the future.’’