Why the Royal Opera House set up shop in Essex


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The Independent Online

A 46-year-old electrician from Thurrock, Essex, stands in a school music room, breathes deeply, then blasts out Verdi's 1853 opera Il Trovatore.

Dozens of his fellow Thurrock residents shuffle sheaves of music and stare towards the front. The electrician, Martin French – along with around 75 others in one of Essex's most culturally deprived areas – is a member of the Thurrock Community Chorus. The Royal Opera House established the choir in May to bring opera to new audiences. The group is set to make its Covent Garden debut on 1 October with a performance featuring Verdi's Anvil Chorus.

"A friend of mine was going to sing in public. She needed some practice, so we went to several karaoke bars," said Mr French. "That's when I discovered I could sing. I now do all I can to explore my classical side."

Thurrock, known for its sprawling out-of-town shopping centre Lakeside, is the site of the new Royal Opera House facility. Its launch last year featured a performance of a new opera, Ludd and Isis, The Purfleet Opera, inspired by Thurrock and using local singers and musicians. It was well received and a permanent choir followed.

The chorus, conducted by ROH community chorus director Jeremy Haneman, began recruiting in the spring and now meets weekly.

Now, Mr Haneman's aim is to expand the choir's number to 200 and tour them as cultural ambassadors, introducing opera to other areas nationwide. And in the short term, at least, he is unlikely to suffer from lack of commitment.

"I am a shift electrician and I have just arranged cover," said Mr French.

"There's an emotion, a feeling you get when you hear a lot of people making a beautiful sound. There's nothing quite like it."