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The process behind Belongings began with a simple directive from Glyndebourne – to come up with a suitable story for an opera that would place a large group of young people at the centre of the action. In this case, it was Glyndebourne itself that ultimately provided the starting point for our story – specifically, Glyndebourne’s role in the Second World War, during which it became a safe haven for a group of young evacuees from London. Laura and I were very interested in creating a story based loosely on this period in Glyndebourne’s history, which we noticed contained strong parallels with the present day. It was at this time, in early 2016, that the refugee crisis appeared to be escalating – mass drownings in the Mediterranean were an almost-daily occurrence and the population of the makeshift camp at Calais continued to grow. Though, of course, the precise experience of these refugees is far more terrible than that of those who were forced from their homes by the advent of the Second World War, there are several similarities to be observed. For example, in both circumstances, children were displaced and catapulted violently into the unknown, where they faced/are facing lingual, cultural, social and environmental barriers between themselves and their new hosts. Nevertheless, as history has shown us, considerate dialogue and gentle human connection are capable of overcoming these barriers, and it was primarily this idea that inspired the creation of Belongings. Another important idea for me was the cost of war to innocents, specifically children, who play no part in its action; with this in mind, I have included at key moments in the opera references to the Bach chorale Ein Lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld der Welt (A lamb goes forth, bearing the sins of the world), which serves as a reminder of the cruel effects that human stubbornness and pride can have on our world’s smallest and most fragile residents.
Laura and I are deeply indebted to Glyndebourne, Lucy Bradley and Lee Reynolds for their generous support and assistance throughout the creation of Belongings.
Lewis Murphy, Composer