Few people readily associate Bradford with opera but this year we've been involved in a project to see what appetite there is for an opera festival in the city.
During the Bradford Festival back in July 2017 three open-air performances of Ice Cream: The Opera played to crowds of many hundreds who laughed, gasped and cheered their way through them. The new opera, composed by Russell Sarre to the words of Yorkshire poet Ian McMillan, was our first collaboration with Bradford-based Freedom Studios whose mission it is to introduce creative art to the city's diverse communities.
This year we've teamed up again with Freedom Studios for what is hoped to be a first step towards creating a Bradford Opera Festival aimed at growing audiences for opera and classical music, and contributing to the wider cultural sector of Bradford. What such a festival might look like is as yet not known; the project is essentially in its research and development phase. But at a sharing event in Kala Sangam Arts Centre last Tuesday an invited audience was given a taste of what they might expect.
Can Italian comic opera really work in Bradford? The audience thought so. They were treated to two arias from Rossini's The Barber of Seville translated by Ian McMillan from Italian into Yorkshire dialect, sung magnificently by baritone Paul Gibson despite standing in with less than 24 hours notice.
The event also featured three newly commissioned short operas. All three told stories relevant to the locality, engaged different communities and touched on challenging issues. Friendship by composer Fran Wyburn and was set in the busy Broadway Shopping Centre and based on stories and characters created by members of the Bradford Friendship Choir for refugees and friends who were involved in the performance. Perfume by composer-singer Alya Al-Sultani and writer Kamal Kaan was a clear, contained gay love story between two Asian men in Bradford. And Skipton Camerata's own Ben Crick composed Last Gift to words by Khadijah Ibrahiim related the story of a 19th Century Ethiopian emperor defeated by the British, and his son who found himself living in exile in Leeds.
If the project set out to ask if opera had anything to offer the people of Bradford - and the feeling was that it does - the conclusion from all who attended the sharing event in Kala Sangam last week was that Bradford clearly has plenty to offer opera.