Pay the Piper was a new commission for Glyndebourne Youth Opera (GYO) and featured at the core of our programme in 2022. The opera was written by the 4 female composers of Glyndebourne’s Balancing the Score scheme and librettist Hazel Gould.
The production utilised movement and puppetry with opera in a non-traditional staging to tell a new interpretation of the German folk tale The Pied Piper of Hamelin. To create a more immersive opera experience for an audience new to opera, the stalls seating was removed to create a single 'amphitheatre' performance space for musicians and singers alike. This 'in the round' approach transformed the auditorium into a found space, informing direction, design and lighting.
This version told the story from a variety of perspectives and highlighted themes of subjective truth, memory and growing up. As well as the GYO chorus, the production included 8 local young actors, new to puppetry, who operated the 7m high ‘Lonely Child’ puppet which served as a
constant reminder of the stakes at the heart of the story.
The GYO chorus of 65 young people began rehearsals in July 2021 with intensive rehearsals until December 2021. From January 2022, rehearsals with director Stephen Langridge began. Eventually, these included the 3 professional singers and contemporary music ensemble Psappha - giving the participants real insight into the professional rehearsal process for a new opera. Many of the GYO participants mentioned how illuminating these interactions were and how they had shaped their future plans. As well as offering development opportunities for the participants, the collaboration with Psappha has resulted in further projects with some of the Balancing the Score composers.
The young people were involved in many aspects of the production design. They made over 250 rat puppets, which they animated throughout the show. The GYO chorus also customised the jackets which were part of their costumes and provided pictures which were included in the set. Alongside guided research, writing workshops, and talks about eco-theatre, conducting and producing, this aspect of the production fed into the participants’ wider learning about careers in the arts. This resulted in 19 Arts Award submissions from the GYOs.
The accessibility of the production was key. The chilled performance was a first for Glyndebourne and offered audiences a more relaxed experience with an open door policy, greater auditorium lighting and a comfortable break out room with a live feed of the performance. Around a third of the audience for this performance would not have been able to attend otherwise. It was especially popular with baby and toddler groups as well as families and people living with dementia and their careers. A Performance for Schools was attended largely by classmates of
the participants. For a significant proportion of this audience, this was their first experience of opera.