Knight Crew (2010)

Project Summary

In March 2010 Glyndebourne staged Knight Crew on the main stage. Knight Crew placed young people and the community centre stage in four performances of a new commission from Glyndebourne’s first composer-in-residence, Julian Philips.

With a libretto by award-winning author Nicky Singer, it was directed by John Fulljames and conducted by Nicholas Collon. The budget for this significant new commission was £400,000 – all of which was raised from Arts Council England, individual support and trusts and foundations. The four performances were enthusiastically received by capacity audiences at Glyndebourne and by the press.

One of the largest Glyndebourne education projects, Knight Crew was a large-scale community opera commissioned specifically for the main stage, involving every department at Glyndebourne. Knight Crew is an urban story based on the King Arthur legend, brought to the stage by a collaboration involving Glyndebourne’s first composer-in-residence, Julian Philips; librettist and award-winning author Nicky Singer; and director John Fulljames.

Under the umbrella title of the Round Table Project, this programme of participatory and work-related learning gave more young people than ever before the opportunity to take part in a Glyndebourne production. Glyndebourne has initiated a programme of 20 skills workshops to provide support leading up to the auditions. The workshops reached more than 450 young people—largely from rural and urban schools and communities—with little previous experience of similar initiatives, who joined members of Glyndebourne’s own Youth Opera at the final auditions. Additionally, the project supported supports the delivery of the new work-related qualification, the Creative and Media Diploma. This integrated education initiative explores creative and vocational learning and participation and is available to 14-18 year olds in Ringmer and Crawley. As well as ensuring the broadest number of local young people could participate, Knight Crew also involved parents, carers and other members of the local community in a ‘Mothers’ Chorus’.

Making Knight Crew

Find out more about the process Glyndebourne goes through when commissioning and casting a new opera for young people like Knight Crew .

Synopsis

Act I

The Knight Crew excitedly retell the latest occurrence in their gang war with the Saxons. Meanwhile, Art’s mother worries that he will be drawn into the warfare. The mystical Myrtle predicts Art’s future by the river and Quin defends her against Art’s aloof responses.

Scene III demonstrates the Crew member’s ambitions and desires, however Art, Quin and Myrtle’s differ significantly from the rest. Art is initiated into the Knight Crew and as a result kills Danny – a Saxon. Art’s mother laments but the Crew show no remorse and prepare to defend themselves from the vengeance-seeking Saxons. Art does not partake as he is taunted by Danny’s ghostly remainders

Myrtle reprimands Mordec for leading the violence, however this serves to provoke more violence and fatality. Art realises that the knife that stabbed Myrtle is clean, thus fulfilling Myrtle’s prophesy: ‘When the Buck Knife kills without spilling blood, Art becomes King.’ Subsequently Art swears an oath to stop the violence and comforts Quin. The duet ends on a hopeful note as they dream of creating a better world.

Scene X begins with the break away Crew led by Garvey. They challenge Art but he remains steadfast in his mission of non-violence. As Art initiates members into his new Crew, Lance appears and is coerced into joining. Lance informs that the Saxons have taken Elayne and shaved her head.

The Saxons enter bloodthirsty and angry. Art attempts in vain to make peace and the Saxons agree to a one-on-one fight with no weapons. Lance volunteers to fight against HellRazor and mercifully relieves him from possible death.

Act II

Mordec has returned only to be exiled as he disagrees with the Crew’s new game of mercy and non-violence. He is even more angered by Art’s rise as new leader. Art, Quin, Lance and Elayne discuss and experiment with Lance’s philosophies. As the group falls asleep, Lance and Quin’s affections becomes more obvious.

Meanwhile Mordec has been observing this from the shadows. Lance disappears quickly as Mordec makes his presence known. He knows that Mordec will expose his relationship with Quin. Art refuses to believe Mordec’s observations yet secretly doubts Quin and Lance. He searches for Lance but is accosted by illusions of the Danny chorus.

Mordec announces that he has found Lance and Quin together and stresses that Art must follow the law of the Knights: ‘If any man betrays the oath, Let the knife fall’.

Elayne and the girls beg for mercy but to no avail as Art resolves to cut Quin’s face. Quin accepts her fate with a dignified stance but is saved by Lance at the last moment.

Scene II opens on Lance and Quin, they lament their actions and emotions. Art has been watching from the shadows and angrily flies at Lance. Proclaiming his loyalty to Art, Lance resolves to leave. Quin distraught asks Art to embrace her but he refuses and is accosted by the Crew. They now want Mordec to retake his place as King.

The climax ensues as Mordec and Art fight over the kingship; both are stabbed in a clutching dramatic embrace. Lance arrives to throw the killer-knife into the river, putting an end to the fighting.

Cast

Art Pascal Charbonneau
Mordec Robert Winslade Anderson
Mother Yvonne Howard
Quin Claire Wild
Elayne Keisha Amponsa Banson
Myrtle Yvonne Howard
Lance Nadim Naaman
Big Shank Damon Willer
HellRazor Lloyd Thomas
Danny MacMahon Louis Watkins/Harvey Cash

Creative and production team

Composer Julian Philips
Librettist Nicky Singer
Director John Fulljames
Conductor Nicholas Collon
Designer Es Devlin
Movement Director Ben Wright
Fight Director Alison de Burgh
Chorus Leader Gareth Malone
Assistant Director Lucy Bradley
Assistant Conductor Graham Ross

Gareth Malone and Glyndebourne

Gareth Malone, who has worked with Glyndebourne education since 2000, returned to work on Knight Crew as Chorus Master, helping to find new talent and reach teenagers who would never normally get the chance to appear in an opera. Gareth’s journey, from auditioning the young chorus through to the final performances at Glyndebourne, was filmed by the BBC as a three-part documentary – Gareth Malone Goes to Glyndebourne – which was first broadcast on BBC2 in June 2010.

Press reaction

“This was a well-told tale that really packed a punch, and could not have hoped for a more gripping or committed performance. The legendary Glyndebourne production values are applied as assiduously to these youth operas as to anything in the Festival season, and they really pay off.”

- Classical Music magazine

“I wouldn’t have missed it for anything: profoundly uplifting and encouraging.”

- The Stage

“One might think that the campaign to widen opera’s audience has been terminally hijacked by showbiz. But that would be to discount the heroic work done by opera-company education departments up and down the country, and above all their brand-leaders at Glyndebourne.”

- The Independent

Press reviews and features

Links to online reviews and articles about Knight Crew:

Read review on the Gramophone website

Read review on The Guardian website

Read review on The Independent website