Brum-Hilde - street opera comes to Birmingham
I had a great opportunity to indulge in people-watching in Birmingham a few days ago, when I saw how shoppers reacted to having their lunch time reverie disturbed by two classically trained operatic voices soaring above the hubbub.
Across the square was the arresting sight of two stereotypes - a Brunnhilde character in horned helmet and a well-upholstered baritone in dinner jacket and black wig, imploring passers-by to Save the Diva.
Accompanied by a mime artist in bellboy costume and an accordionist and trombonist, they waved a banner and sang in praise of consumption and selfishness. Meanwhile the bellboy moved from pandering to their every whim to a realisation that such behaviour will wreck the planet. The piece ends on a sober note when he mimes drowning as the sea level rises.
This novel way of drawing attention to environmental issues is the result of an artistic partnership between Friends of the Earth and The Opera Group. We used real opera singers playing a caricature of the opera divas to sing about over-consumption to people who are out shopping.
A risky approach perhaps?
We were exploring whether the unexpected sight would stop people and enable us to talk to them about the themes in the opera. Friends of the Earth local group members were on hand to chat and hand out information.
People certainly stopped. 'Hilarious,' said one. 'A terrific way to get people involved,' said another. Others looked a bit bemused. But the show was fun and the performers heroic. People's reactions were almost as entertaining as the buffoonery between the players. An interesting experiment and hopefully the opera gave them some pause for reflection.
This cross-over between art and activism continues over the summer. Save the Diva is trailing the Opera Group's Seven Angels, a full-scale opera inspired by Milton's Paradise Lost, with an environmental theme. Friends of the Earth local groups in Cardiff, Birmingham, Glasgow, Brighton, Oxford and London will be supporting Seven Angels.
Joanna Watson, Creative Communications Team
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© Joanna Watson