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New opera showcases hive of creativity at Royal Holloway

Posted on 01/03/2013

A new opera that explores the dangerous decline in bumblebee populations in the UK will receive its world première at Royal Holloway on Sunday 17 March.

The Silence of the Bees: A Science Opera combines both the arts and science faculties at Royal Holloway and looks to challenge our traditional assumptions of both, with the music inviting people into a scientific world and showing that opera can be used to highlight important ecological issues.

The composer Kelvin Thomson became inspired to start the project after realising that Dr Mark Brown, a leading bee expert who he had read about, was a member of Royal Holloway’s School of Biological Sciences. Kelvin, a PhD in Composition candidate at Royal Holloway’s Music Department, approached Dr Brown after one of his lectures and they agreed to collaborate on the opera.

Kelvin was also captivated by the dramatic possibilities in Sylvia Plath’s poem The Arrival of the Bee Box, and took inspiration from its rhythmical effects and imagery, which vividly describes the insects and the speakers’ fascination with them.

Based around Dr Brown’s pioneering research into bees, the one-act piece looks to inspire a new generation of opera lovers. “As a composer I try to bridge gaps and fuse styles, so this is a fun opera that everyone will be able to enjoy ”, said Kelvin. “By mixing material from Dr Brown’s lectures with poetry, we have shown a way in which science and art can work together and we have certainly learned from each other.”

Kelvin has worked as a musical director, arranger, composer and musician in global shows such as Riverdance, The Lion King and Celtic Woman. His background in musical theatre has influenced the opera and a range of styles, from pop and rock to contemporary classical, can be heard in the score alongside references to standard operatic repertoire.

Some of the music even derives from the DNA sequences of bees, with other references including Money, Money, Money, by ABBA, and the “Champagne Aria” from Mozart’s Don Giovanni.

Dr Brown, himself an amateur musician, played a key part in writing the libretto together with the opera's director Benet Catty and a team from Royal Holloway’s Department of English.

Dr Brown said: “While I am used to labs and delivering science lectures, this represented a completely new way of presenting my research. Scientists and artists are often viewed as working in very different ways, but creativity and the desire to communicate are universal and fusing our ideas into one has been an exciting challenge.”

The Silence of the Bees: A Science Opera will kick off Royal Holloway’s week-long Science Festival. It will be followed by a Q&A with members of the creative team.

The opera is supported by The Alumni Fund at Royal Holloway.

For more information about The Silence of the Bees: A Science Opera, visit the opera’s webpage here.

Tickets are £10/£5 (concessions) and can be booked online here.


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