In October, I wrote about a community opera being created in County Durham that had been stopped just weeks before its première by the Covid pandemic. The piece had taken more than a year to make in a partnership between professional and non-professional artists and no one was willing to let it go, or wait in uncertainty for a moment when it might be re-created. So they continued to work online, and after the lockdown those who could came to the railway museum where the performance was due to be performed to turn it into a film, in two days, in the rain and in Covid-safe conditions. The orchestra and chorus of were recorded separately, and all these pieces woven together to make this beautiful work: ‘Song of Our Heartland’.
In these hard times, in the depth of winter, it is wonderful to have this testament of hope and courage. Like many community productions, its story might strike some people as unrealistically optimistic, but in truth, it isn’t: I know many communities that have fought and won similar battles. In any case, this time real life can be said to have imitated art, as Opera North, Northern Heartlands and everyone involved have pulled off an exceptional achievement against the odds, in the face of the worst pandemic in a century. The premiere was held online just before Christmas, and the Northern Heartlands team spent two days beforehand travelling County Durham to deliver chocolates and Prosecco to all the participants so that everyone could celebrate in the best style possible, despite not being able to come together. Opera is so hard to do that anyone who takes on its challenge has no choice but do reach beyond what they know they can do. That’s what everyone involved in this piece has done, and it’s wonderful.