Why Hastings is the home of community opera

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In 1990 Glyndebourne staged its first community opera. Composed by Jonathan Dove, Hastings Spring was performed on Hastings Pier by more than 300 local people.

Conceived at a time when community opera was still in its infancy, it represented one of the most ambitious projects undertaken by any opera company in the country to date.

The success of Hastings Spring spurred the future development of Glyndebourne’s education department, which now enjoys a formidable reputation for delivering high-quality, high-impact participatory opera projects.

It is apt, then, that in the year Glyndebourne marks 30 years since the creation of its education department the company returns to the area to help deliver a brand-new community opera project, PUSH.

About PUSH

PUSH is a new opera commissioned by Battle Festival as part of the ROOT 1066 Festival marking the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings.

It is based on the remarkable true story of Simon Gronowski, who was pushed off a train going to Auschwitz by his mother in 1943, changing the course of his life.

From there, the story expands to explore other first-hand accounts of refugees and prisoners from the Battle of Hastings to the present day.

Composer Howard Moody, along with director Simon Iorio, worked closely with the local community, workshopping material in January 2016 with groups of local schoolchildren and adults.

‘For this production, the piece is for the community that sing it,’ Howard says. ‘It is hard to imagine a more committed process. The people of Battle have sung for their lives, bringing a depth of response that is beyond words.’

Photo: Pat Pope

‘It is life changing for me’

A chorus of 200 children and adults from across 1066 country will perform in PUSH.

Among them are many who have no previous experience of opera, including Michael Howard, 72.

‘I saw the full-page Picture Special in the Hastings Observer, thought about it for a while and decided it would be nice to get involved with something celebrating such an historic event as the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. What really made me apply was that no previous experience was necessary and you did not have to be able to read music. What also pulled me in was the fact that Glyndebourne were involved.

Howard is a genius. It is amazing and unbelievable that he wrote this opera from his meeting with Simon Gronowski and then to bring in 1066 and modern-day scenarios is awesome and so moving. Some of the words and music really do get to you. When I read the story I had to be part of it.

Being part of PUSH has given me the opportunity to meet a whole new community of people that I have never interacted with and it is great fun – you are a bit shy at first but the more you meet together the more closer you get as a unit. The big thing about all this is that is has given me the chance to do something totally different in my life – so, yes, it is life changing for me.’

The world premiere of PUSH will take place at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill on Saturday 1 October 2016. A semi-staged version is performed in Battle on Saturday 8 October.