Community Opera in Herne Hill
We are establishing a tradition of Community Operas in the Festival. In 2014 we performed Noye's Fludde by Benjamin Britten, with the help of local musicians and Rosendale School. In 2015 we will be performing The Peasant's Opera, newly-written for the occasion. The Charter School are providing the majority of the performers and the orchestra.
The Peasant's Opera
This new opera will be performed at The Charter School, Red Post Hill, on Wednesday October 14th. It is being written by Herne Hill Music Festival's Musical Director, Alan Taylor, especially for performance by secondary schools and amateur opera companies. The opera requires four adult soloists, and then a large crowd or Peasants and an orchestra with the instruments which are typically found in a secondary school.
Support for the performance
Dulwich Community Council has agreed to provide £1,500 towards the cost of the performance, and we are enormously grateful for their support for this ambitious venture. We are hoping for further support from the Arts Council England, but meanwhile you can help us to fill the gap - the financial gap between the considerable costs of performing an opera and the income from ticket sales. The costs are high because four professional singers are needed as soloists, along with a professional opera director and conductor. The benefit of hiring professionals will not only lead to a better performance, but also because the pupils of The Charter School will be able to work with the professionals in the development of the opera and its performance.
The Peasants' Revolt
The story of the Opera centres around the 1381 Peasants' Revolt, which happened in response to the government attempting to levy one of the first Poll Taxes. This was a tax that affected every man and woman beyond the age of puberty equally. There had been a series of taxes to pay for the, mainly unsuccessful, war in France. This one required everyone to pay 4 pence, which was the equivalent of 3 days wages. This came at a time when the Black Death had killed up to 60% of the population. In response the reduced workforce began charging higher fees for their services, but Parliament controlled by the Lords put wage controls in place, limiting the people's ability to earn reasonable money. The Revolt began with tax collectors in Essex and Kent being attacked and escalated quickly to the sacking of prisons and the killing of priests, and a march to London where the final confrontations took place.
The story of the opera
Our story begins in the ancient village of Borden, a village near Sittingbourne, where our main protagonists, Thomas and Matilda, an “everyman” and woman lived. We know that there was violence in Borden at this time and it is likely that it's inhabitants would have been influenced by the rebel preacher, John Ball and would have followed Wat Tyler in his march to London to seek young King Richard's intervention. During this period, travel of any distance was very unusual, but some tradesmen would have travelled fair distances to sell their wares and would have been the conduits of news. Our agitator, John Chandler was one of these. Our fourth character is young Simon, a simple lad, imprisoned in Rochester Castle by the tax inspectors for non-payment, along with the rebel preacher, Jon Ball. The Castle was sacked in the early stages of the uprising.
Act 1 Borden
Thomas and Matilda complain of how bad things are, how they'd hoped things might improve with higher wages, but these had been outlawed. They then recount the arrival of the tax collectors, and particularly how Simon, a lad they had adopted, had been taken away to jail for refusing to pay. Thomas describes meeting John, who has news of possible change, but Matilda dismisses this. John arrives, and urges the others to join the growing rebellion, and march to London to petition the King. Simon returns, having been free from jail when the Peasant mob stormed Rochester Castle. He sings of equality. The others pack for the journey.
Act 2 Blackheath
John goes down to the river to await the arrival of the King. Matilda gossips with all the friends she has met. John can't quite see over the crowd, and is frustrated. Simon occasionally bursts into song – a dialogue of the deaf. John sees the King's boat, but it turns round and goes away. He is in despair. John returns, angry, but says they must now march to London. The others are sceptical.
Act 3 London
A church, dusk. Thomas lying down drunk, and Simon standing. Matilda returns, having seen the violent events, relieved they are safe. John sings drunkenly of sacking the Savoy Palace and drinking the wine. Matilda is angry. John recounts the killing of the Flemings – and realises how terrible this was. Matilda condemns him. John returns from the taking of the Tower and killing of the chief ministers, excited that the evil men have been killed, and convinced that the Peasant leader, Wat Tyler, will now convince the young King to redress their grievances. Matilda reveals that Wat Tyler is dead, and the Peasants have dispersed. She urges them to go home, for fear of their lives. As they leave, they each reflect on the events, and how they feel. John has the last word – 'we will be remembered'.