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Bedfordshire Youth Opera

Semele, 2002

When auditioning for the Opera this year I was very interested to find out what the creative team would deem a suitable follow up to last year's triumphant production of Sweeney Todd, by Stephen Sondheim. When I received my letter I was unfamiliar with the choice but none-the-less very intrigued: Semele, by George Friderick Handel (whom some of you may have heard of), was the challenge, and what a challenge it turned out to be!

The biggest shock was for the Chorus who were unaware, until trying to run act 1, just how many numbers they had to learn, and how difficult they were to memorise (as Handel repeats the one line of lyrics in a thousand different combinations of rhythms, notes and words). We also wanted to capture some of the style that Handel wrote in, as well as trying to make Baroque Opera accessible and entertaining to today's public.

Final rehearsal pictures!

(photos courtesy of Remmy Bradban)

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The show also called for some big performances, especially the roles of Jupiter (Dan Smith), Juno (Kitty Whately) and, surprisingly enough, Semele (Jenny Armitage). All 3 were magnificent and handeled the Handel with skill (excuse the pun, I couldn't resist).

This year we were to be put up at Cheetham's School of Music in Manchester for the residential week, little did we expect the luxurious surroundings we would find on our arrival. Nearly every cast member had their own room with en suite facilities, which were cleaned daily, not to mention 3 hot meals a day and loads of rehearsal space (anyone who has ever stayed in the converted barn on Point Farm in Wales as we did 4 years ago would have scarce believed they were in the same company). Full advantage was taken of the spaces both for rehearsals and socially, with a company games night and poetry evening being held as well as the annual review at the end of the week. Of course we also felt obliged to help local businesses by visiting a few of the local pubs (occasionally?!!!!!) The week was a tremendous success and we returned to Bedford full of enthusiasm.

As always, the Bowen West Community Theatre was to house the production. And the 3rd week was spent rehearsing in the theatre and helping build the sets and costumes (the latter of which turned out to be a bigger challenge than anticipated and many long nights were spent by cast and crew with sewing machines and needles clattering away till the small hours of the morning.

By opening night we knew we had a decent show again this year and we all felt proud of what we had achieved. It had been hard work but it is worth it, and that is why we come back year after year. Which brings me to say that one of the team will not be returning next year…for 15 years (Perculiar) Julia McLeish has been involved with the company as a performer, chorus mistress, vocal coach, choreographer, director and artistic director. However the time has come for her to move on and start new adventures. Anyone who has ever witnessed her productions, or worked with her, will know just how creative and clever she is, and how well she enthuses the people she works with. We will ALL miss you Perculiar, don't forget to come back a say hello sometime!

But don't think this is the end, the company is still very much alive and will continue under the Direction of Fred Broom (yes he played Sweeney Todd last year and the very camp Judge the year before), with John Shayler still on board as the Musical Director (if he ever comes back from his travels, with all his new found spare time).

Anyone who has ever wanted to sing in an Opera and likes the sound of doing something with your holiday that is totally satisfying as well as being the best fun ever, should come along and audition. Why not? New members are always welcome, come and have a go! This year we had a great time both socially, and through creating an exciting, moving piece of dramatic theatre that means so much to the cast and crew.

It has been another amazing course this year, thank you to all those who make it possible, and especially those who put in the hours to get the show off the ground; Perculiar Julia; John Shayler; Sue Spoon; Fred Broom; Ben Wiles; Remmy Bradban; Paula Thwaites and everyone else I have forgotten. Lets hope the company can continue for many years to come, allowing young people to continue getting same experiences and lessons that so many people have already got from Bedfordshire Youth Opera.

Go on, try us out, opera really can be fun! Ring Paula on 01234 408178 and come for an audition on the first weekend of January.