Self made woman

New kind of opera premieres in Birmingham.

Quilt Song is an upbeat new opera, specially designed for people who might think that opera is not for them. Undercutting operatic conventions, it includes a variety of modern musical styles, from the operatic, to pop and loops-based music, all within a contemporary context, much like the hit West End musical, Hamilton.

It premieres at the Old Rep Theatre, Birmingham, on Friday 19th and Saturday 20th October 2018 at 7pm. Tickets are free, booked through the Old Rep website.

Created by composer and singer Susie Self, the story celebrates diversity through the metaphor of quilting, and lyrics are sourced from the play Abraham Lincoln by John Drinkwater, which premiered at the same theatre in October 1918.

Susie is the playwright’s grand-daughter, and explains: “In the play by my grandfather, Abraham Lincoln declares the importance of unity in spite of differences. It’s a theme that’s as relevant today as it was 100 years ago, perhaps even more so. That’s why I chose it.”

The opera also builds on the theme of freedom, including civil rights activist Rosa Parks who famously refused to move from her seat on a bus in 1955. It goes on to reference some of the events of today, for instance Jo Cox’s statement “We have more in common than that which divides us”.

Maureen Brathwaite, professor of singing at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, sings Rosa, Blake (the bus driver) is sung by Tristan Stocks, while Birmingham singer Elizabeth Cragg takes the part of The Muse, and Susie Self the part of The Poet. To compose the opera, Susie worked closely with local community groups, Pastures New Quilting, and students from Birmingham Ormiston Academy.

The opera will be performed by four professional soloists, a ten-piece orchestra, the Alma Guitar Trio, a youth choir, and an adult choir. It also includes innovative video installations, created by the composer, which enhance and develop ideas within the opera.

Jackie Barrie, one of the choir members, says: “Susie is a marvellously creative composer. The lyrics are heartwarming and uplifting. The whole opera is inspirational, it’s an honour to be part of it.”

Susie’s previous opera, The Butt, was performed in 2016 in Vienna to rapturous acclaim. Stefan Ender writing in Der Standard said “The music was stylistic with great variety: It was skilfully worked and crafted, offering a variety of moods.”

Audiences are also invited to attend a free informal reading of the play Abraham Lincoln in the Old Rep Theatre on Saturday 20th October at 3pm, 100 years since it was first performed there. Tickets for the opera and play reading are free, and must be booked at or by phone: 0121 359 944, Monday-Friday 10am-5pm.