John Fulljames on opera and climate change

‘Seven Angels’ is a new work performed by the The Opera Group, exploring a future after catastrophic climate change. John Fulljames is its Artistic Director.

What do you do?

I’m responsible for the artistic leadership of The Opera Group and lead the process of selecting artists, ideas and thinking about how we can meet audiences.

I am also directing 'Seven Angels'. The opera has music by Luke Bedford and words by award-winning poet Glyn Maxwell. They take Milton’s 'Paradise Lost' as a starting point for a new story about our relationship with the environment in the context of climate breakdown.

What has opera got to do with climate change?

Music is an emotional art form. It’s not good at communicating facts and figures but it can help us explore how we can empathise with other human beings and improve our understanding of the human stories behind the science.

More broadly, opera has an ability to engage people in conversation; it can both act as provocateur and provide a space for emotional reflection.

Music can improve our understanding of the human stories behind the science.

What is 'Seven Angels' about?

The birth of British democracy and the relationship between democracy and ecology are central questions in 'Paradise Lost'. Milton was writing at a time of radical change, both environmentally and politically.

British society was going through radical progressive change but at the same time wounding the Earth and losing an old sense of connection to place. There are strong parallels in today’s world and 'Seven Angels' explores this.

Do you think people see opera as elitist?

In much of Europe, opera has a populist history. It came late to this country. The Opera Group wants to connect to new audiences in different ways, making opera accessible – both through ticket prices and by creating unexpected encounters in unusual places.

We work on issues that people face day to day. Our recent production was 'The Lion’s Face', about dementia.

What switched you on to the environment?

School. We were taught about the ozone layer, global warming, greenhouse gases. The big implications of melting ice caps weren’t really on the agenda then. But I’ve been aware of environmental issues ever since. For five years I’ve been thinking about how we can make work to connect with these concerns.

What’s the cross-over between art and activism?

I think the arts have a lot to offer an activist agenda. Activism gains its power from groups – but groups are only created when there are shared narratives.