Ambitious production for Royal Birmingham Conservatoire

Ethnically-led production of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman by Persona Arts at Bradshaw Hall.

An ambitious production of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman (Der fliegende Holländer) comes to The Bradshaw Hall at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire this July.

In what is believed to be the UK’s first ethnically-led Wagner production, The Flying Dutchman is presented by Persona Arts, with music direction from international baritone Byron Jackson and stage direction by Iqbal Khan (artistic director of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games opening ceremony and associate director at Birmingham Rep – cover pic).

A professional cast with heritage from across the Commonwealth is joined by a skilled community chorus, drawn from the West Midlands region, including the Birmingham Choral Union, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and St Mary’s Church, Handsworth. Music comes from the Central England Camerata, under the baton of Jack Ridley.

Main character parts are performed by Anando Mukerjee (pictured), Mari Wyn Williams, Laura Woods, Christian Joel and Gerrit Paul Groen, with Byron Jackson taking the role of The Dutchman.

Wagner’s score is presented alongside a short new commission by Birmingham-based composer, Bobbie-Jane Gardner.

The production is part of Byron Jackson’s mission to break down racial barriers that still exist within the opera and classical music sectors. The community chorus and orchestra are drawn from across Birmingham and the Black Country, and into rural areas of Shropshire and Worcestershire.

Rehearsals are taking place in Smethwick and Handsworth, an area of the city known for its vibrant South Asian and African-Caribbean communities. These factors mean that this production of Wagner will be performed – and seen – by many people of mixed ethnic heritage who may never have experienced opera before.

Byron Jackson, Artistic Director of Persona Arts, comments, “Over the last two years, Persona Arts have been scouring the West Midlands to recruit community singers for our Flying Dutchman chorus. It’s been a long journey, and now we’re finally here, about to bring our production of Wagner to the stage. This is an especially important production for me, as it draws together a diverse professional cast as well as people from my home city and region who have been systematically forgotten from the world of opera and music, and tells them that ‘Yes, you can do this!’

Artistic Director Byron Jackson is an award-winning opera singer of Jamaican heritage, born and raised in Balsall Heath, and trained at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. His talents have taken him to stages around the world, and he has performed with Opera North, English National Opera, English Touring Opera and the Adelaide Festival, Australia, among others.

Beyond his musical achievements, Byron is recognised for his commitment to diversity and promoting the cause of opera to local communities. Through Persona Arts, the music organisation that he founded in 2021 (and prior to that BJ Music Events, 2009-21), Byron has devoted his career to breaking down racial barriers to this musical art form.

Director Iqbal Khan is associate director of Birmingham Rep, an associate artist of Box Clever Theatre Company, and was artistic director of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony. He has worked extensively with the RSC, as well as directing many opera and classical music events. Credits include Otello, The Wildman of the West Indies and Shakespeare at The Bowl.

Considered Wagner’s first undisputed masterpiece, The Flying Dutchman is part of the international opera canon. First performed in 1843, it tells the story of a man doomed to sail the seas for all eternity, unless he finds true love. This production will be performed in the original German, with English subtitles.