Preview: Tarka The Otter, Two Moors Festival, Torrington

A perfect plot: love, death and an otter
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The Independent Culture

There's the Wigmore Hall, and the Wigmore of the South-West - this latter being a barn in the middle of Exmoor, to which artists of the calibre of Emma Bell, Natalie Clein, James Gilchrist and Leon McCawley flock to perform. Every year this western Wigmore hosts a 10-day series of concerts, which this autumn includes a new opera created expressly for the occasion.

When Tarka the Otter, written by Stephen McNeff with a libretto by its director Richard Williams, gets its premiere, one of the West Country's most enduring local myths will assume flesh-and-blood form.

Penny Adie, the former concert pianist who with her husband has created this festival, explains that the idea to do this opera came about two years ago while she and her husband were stuck in a traffic jam on the Bayswater Road.

"We had done Noye's Fludde and wanted to do something similar, but the only option seemed to be to commission our own work." It will be staged in the round, with the river running from one end of the performing space to the other: the designs suggest that it will be a poetic evocation of Tarka country. Children from Torrington Community School will augment the professional cast. "It's a dramatic story," says Adie. "And also controversial, since it focuses on hunting. It's got both love and death - perfect opera material."

The festival itself was conceived on a dismal day in the midst of the foot-and-mouth epidemic, and was never intended to last. Adie had seen and smelt the funeral pyres burning across the countryside: "It was a desperate time not only for farmers but for everyone else: local life came to a complete halt. The music festival was simply designed to cheer people up."

And it has, to the point where, five years later, it's become a magnet for audiences from all over the country. People come and stay at their favourite B&B, and combine walks in the wild with home-grown culture.

Royal Horticultural Society, Rosemoor, Torrington (01643 831006), from 20 October

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