shetland odyssey

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Odysseus Unwound - the opera production

Pioneering Opera Company Tête à Tête teams up with Chamber Ensemble CHROMA and Shetland Artisans for a truly ground-breaking new work, composed by Julian Grant with libretto by Hattie Naylor, that combines opera, knitting and spinning to portray the adventures of Odysseus.

Tête à Tête has established an enviable reputation for bringing highly innovative small-scale opera of outstanding quality to the widest audience. Now, fresh from the huge critical success of their recent production PUSH!, the company will stage the world premiere of its most ambitious and exciting project to date.

Tête à Tête has commissioned its first full-length opera composed by Julian Grant with librettist Hattie Naylor based on the story of Odysseus, drawing inspiration from the surprisingly large common ground shared with the Shetland tradition of knitting and spinning. Following an extensive period of research and development in both London and Shetland, the world premiere of Odysseus Unwound (formerly A Shetland Odyssey) will take place in the historical abandoned theatre at Alexandra Palace, London, as part of the Knitting & Stitching Show, before embarking on a major tour.

Composer Julian Grant has a longstanding relationship with Tête à Tête, having been involved in all of the company’s commissions including Platform 10 for Shorts and Odd Numbers for Six-Pack. Other commissions include a number of works for Almeida Opera, ENO Baylis, The Royal Opera’s Garden Venture and many others. Hattie Naylor has written many plays and films, most regularly for BBC Radio, as well as the libretto for Kenneth Hesketh’s The Overcoat. Tête à Tête commissioned Julian and Hattie to write a new full-length piece together that explored the story of Odysseus.

Odysseus as war criminal, mercenary, compulsive liar, opportunist, and fantasist: Odysseus Unwound throws a contemporary light on a mythic figure, without compromising the picaresque side of his adventures. Though the opera will concentrate on the dark side of Odysseus' character, it is shot through with a savage humour and a lyricism portraying the multifarious adventures (or visions) of its hero. On one level a cautionary tale of the horrors of war in any age, and on the other a death-defying adventure of great breadth.

The Shetland involvement began with an introduction in 2003 from the revolutionary On the Edge project at Gray’s School of Art, Aberdeen, which pioneers new lines of attack for the visual arts in remote rural areas. Since then, the company has met well over a hundred knitters and spinners in Shetland, plus many leading members of the Shetland arts scene, to see how it might collaborate with this unique group of artists.

Through this process Tête à Tête discovered that the tale of an islander’s fantastical journey through an archipelago, in a determined attempt to get home, takes on a very particular colour in Shetland, where ‘home’ means something very specific and travel from island to island is second nature. The story of Odysseus is also a natural vehicle for the merging of opera with knitting and spinning as the construction of textiles is used both as a dramatic device and key metaphor in Homer’s original. Uncannily, Hattie Naylor’s previous stage adaptation also incorporated six knitters representing the fates, knitting the destinies of the protagonists.

The result has been the development of a highly intriguing new opera involving Shetlanders as professional performers and their craft as inspiration. Throughout October 2005, Tête à Tête extended their track record for developing new work in conjunction with the public and undertook an intense period of workshops with singers, Shetland knitters and spinners and the company’s renowned production team in London and also Fair Isle, the UK’s most remote inhabited island. This enabled the company to fully explore the possibilities of this unique collaboration and to work with the local population in Shetland to shape and develop a major new work of international standing for six singers, seven instrumentalists and five Shetland knitters and spinners.

CHROMA is a dynamic, critically acclaimed chamber ensemble featuring some of Britain's most outstanding musicians. Founder Stuart King has played the clarinet in most of Tête à Tête’s shows to date. Since CHROMA ’s inception in 1997, it has quickly gained a reputation as an ensemble of the highest calibre, and has been invited to appear at many major festivals the length of the UK. Following its debut in the Purcell Room on London's South Bank, CHROMA has become most closely associated with the performance of contemporary music and has forged close links with many prominent British composers through an extensive series of premières and collaborations. The ensemble has also made two visits to Shetland, the last to create projects with Shetland Schools based around Odysseus Unwound.

The theatre at Alexandra Palace opened on 31st May 1873 and, along with the rest of the building, burned down two weeks later. Re-opening after a two-year rebuild in 1875, the new theatre ran a successful programme of events, first of live shows, musical revues, pantomime and melodrama, then of cine-variety, and finally as a cinema. After the Theatre Closed, it was taken over by the BBC who, removing the seating, used it as a prop store until vacating the Palace. The theatre has been dark since, and narrowly escaped destruction by a second fire in 1980. The last professional live show to take place in the theatre, in 1933, was a musical revue starring Gracie Fields called The Show’s the Thing.

--- Buy tickets here ---

Tues 10 Oct – 19:30 performance 1
Thu 12 Oct – 17:30 performance 2
Fri 13 Oct – 17:30 performance 3
Sun 15 Oct – 19:30 performance 4
Mon 16 Oct – 14:30 performance 5

Sat 21 Oct – Performance 1: Sandness, Kulturhus
Sun 22 Oct – Performance 2: Sandness, Kulturhus

BASINGSTOKE ANVIL Box 01256 844244
Tue 7 Nov – 19:30 performance

RIVERSIDE STUDIOS Box 020 8237 1111
Mon 13 Nov - 19:30 performance

Box 0161 907 5555
Wed 15 Nov - 19:30 performance

Tue 21 Nov – 19:30 performance

Thu 23 Nov - 20:00 performance

Box 01473 320407
Fri 24 Nov – 17:30 performance 1
Sat 25 Nov – 17:30 performance 2

Mon 27 Nov – 19:30 performance