Mary Peters' Olympic glory remembered in mini opera


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The Independent Culture

Her dramatic gold medal at the Munich Olympics in 1972 ensured her status in her home country of Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles.

Now the pentathlete Dame Mary Peters is to be remembered in a 12-minute opera composed to coincide with the London Games.

Our Day, by Conor Mitchell, will be performed by Northern Ireland Opera at New Music 20x12, a programme of newly commissioned pieces which will be played across a weekend in July at London's Southbank Centre. The piece does not focus on Dame Mary, but instead explores the effect of her win at one of the lowest points of the Troubles in 1972.

Mitchell, who was born five years after the event, said: "That year all hell broke loose and then there was this day when someone from Northern Ireland won a medal and for one day it all just stopped."

Dame Mary has been aware of the project, but is to meet Mitchell for the first time tomorrow. Mitchell said: "Mary Peters is very much part of the Northern Irish consciousness. Sport is such an enormous part of the culture, but I didn't realise how important until I started researching this piece." He added: "It was horrific in 1972 and this woman stood up. It was brilliant, she's a beacon for Northern Ireland."

Mitchell said the 12-minute limit proved taxing. "It is much easier to write an opera that is an hour long, rather than 12 minutes. You want to take the listener on a great journey. I was there with a stopwatch. A link to the Olympics there, maybe."

And while other works also take the Olympics as inspiration, not all have such a serious subject matter. One, Joe Cutler's Ping!, will be the first time a piece has been performed by a string quartet and four table-tennis players. "It's a collaboration of music and sport. In one way the table-tennis players are the percussion section, but they're also like dancers," he said.

The new commissions, backed by the PRS for Music Foundation, feature musicians who specialise in contemporary classical, jazz and folk music.