Arts: Swan-song of the opera revolutionaries

Its Arts Council grant cut, Opera Factory London is going out with a bang, not a whimper.

In post-industrial Britain, there is no shortage of factory closures; nor of opera companies in financial difficulties. Perhaps, then, it's no surprise that Opera Factory London, the company founded by David Freeman in 1982, will close after presenting its next show, And the Snake Sheds Its Skin, which opens tonight for a two-week run at London's Drill Hall.

Fittingly, the Drill Hall is where Freeman staged the first Opera Factory London show, Harrison Birtwistle's Punch and Judy, but if that suggests a nicely symmetrical return to roots, the new show in fact begins an experiment that Freeman had hoped would take the company a long way from conventional notions of opera.

The company that Freeman founded in London in 1982 was the third Opera Factory. The first opened in Sydney (Freeman is Australian by birth) in 1973. When he came to Europe in 1975, the Sydney company died a natural death. In Zurich, he set up a second Factory with a production of Handel's Acis and Galatea, which attracted the attention of Lord Harewood and Edmund Tracey of English National Opera. They organised London performances of Acis, the success of which generated a relationship with ENO that led not only to Freeman working at the Coliseum but to the founding of Opera Factory London.

Opera Factory has never been a permanent company, but rather an occasional intervention. To ask Freeman why he set up the Opera Factories is to ask him to sum up a lifetime's thought and action, but he gives it his best shot: "It was an attempt to make a company which shared specific ideals about performance and training, about aesthetics and the role of opera in society, ideals very different from the role of a large-scale opera company. Although I've worked in big opera houses, I don't think those companies can really question the idea of opera, even of live performance, in any profound way when they're doing hundreds of performances a year."

What Freeman strives for places his work in an avant-garde theatrical, rather than operatic, tradition: "The so-called theatrical revolution in opera of the 1980s was really a design revolution: the level of performance didn't change much. I wanted a company of people - more like an experimental theatre or dance company - which could do things that didn't normally take place in an opera house. A performance-based, rather than a text- based company. The communication is between performer and audience, not between text and audience."

Not that Freeman's productions scorn opera's "texts": his stagings of Cavalli, Mozart, Stravinsky and Britten have always attended scrupulously to musical values. Yet, as Freeman stresses, the aim is not simply to find a new way of doing Mozart; rather to find new ways of making theatre. In that sense, some of his most interesting work has been staging new works that don't quite fit the category of opera, from Birtwistle's Yan Tan Tethera (1986) to Nigel Osborne's Sarajevo (1994), a recasting of Greek myth in terms of contemporary civil war. For Freeman, "the idea was definitely not to come up with a new Tristan und Isolde. I hear people say, 'If only someone would write Tristan for today." If they did, no one would want it. We live in a time of diversity, not of Wagnerian unity, and we need art that reflects that."

That's why, before the Arts Council cut the company's grant, Freeman had set about redefining its work in terms of what he calls "Theatre of the World". The new show, And the Snake Sheds Its Skin, was the first step in that direction. The music is by the Senegalese composer Habib Faye, best known for his work with Youssou N'Dour, and Freeman himself wrote the libretto, drawing on ancient Sumerian creation myths.

For Freeman, the piece is an attempt to reflect the fact that "Europe is no longer Europe in the sense that it was in 1950. There are huge wanderings of people across the globe, we know much more about other cultures, there is a 'world theatre culture', which, in many ways, has more in common with opera and mixed forms than with a Chekhov play.

"We hang on to our temples of art, glorifying a great past, and I'm not against that, but I want to work in a way that reflects how things are changing around us, not as some kind of social work, but in terms of wanting to create something new artistically.

"I'm pleased that probably the last show Opera Factory does will be entirely different from anything we've ever tried. That seems to be one of the main points of the company: rather than going out with one of our most famous productions, so as to remind everybody how good we were, I'd rather remind them how interesting we were."

Opera Factory's production of 'And the Snake Sheds Its Skin' runs from Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30pm at the Drill Hall, London until 25 April (0171-637 8270). It will then go on tour to the Oxford Playhouse (10 May), Cambridge Corn Exchange (16 and 17 May) and Reading Hexagon (May 20).

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SEN Teacher, Permanent Role in Ashford

    Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Randstad urgently seeks a qualif...


    £55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP BI CONSULTA...

    Infrastructure Manager - Southampton - Up to £45K

    £35000 - £45000 per annum + 36 days holiday and more: Deerfoot IT Resources Li...

    Drama Teacher

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Liverpool: We are looking for someone who can t...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice