Classical First night- Stone Angels

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The Independent Culture
The latest work by Paul Barker, Stone Angels, must be unique - a new opera, with an all-girl cast, which is not ostensibly a "children's opera". The piece receives its world premiere at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London this week on Wednesday and Thursday from Lontano and the New London Children's Choir under the direction of Odaline de la Martinez (above).

To a libretto by its director, Chris Baldwin, the premise of Stone Angels bears more than a passing similarity to a celebrated 20th-century English novel - though in the book it is boys, not girls, who are involved. Here, a group of schoolgirls survive a plane crash during the Second World War to end up on a remote Greek island. Soon, they are replicating the conflicts taking place in the adult world, with factions forming and violent rituals being outplayed.

"Obviously there's a hint of Lord of the Flies in the storyline," says Martinez, "though it's just one of a number of allusions to many things from Greek myths to contemporary literature."

Indeed, having particularly championed women composers and women musicians for much of her career, it would seem to be the strong feminist element in Stone Angels which appeals to Martinez. "One strand of the opera deals with the exploitation of women. Some people know a plane has crashed on this island but they think it has servicemen on it, so pornographic magazines are dropped in to keep them happy. How the girls react to this material causes some of the rifts and violence that follows."

Martinez is also more than happy with both the commitment and standard of her cast. "All the girls involved, and there are 30 of them, are aged between 14-17 and they've been immaculately trained by Ronald Corp. The majority of operas involving children have some through-composed parts and some that are improvised. Here though, the entire opera of 70 minutes has been set down in full score and the girls are genuinely rising to the challenge.

"There's a very attractive set design by Hoibo Ju, and Chris Baldwin, who wrote the words, is also directing. I'm very much looking forward to conducting both the girls themselves and the imaginatively employed instrumental quintet."

So, a fascinating-sounding new chamber opera to begin a new year in which new opera might well be thin on the ground. It should be well worth a visit.

`Stone Angels' by Paul Barker is at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London WC1

(0171-388 8822) on Wed & Thur at 7.30pm

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