Streetwise Opera’s productions are co-created by music professionals and vulnerable people in several British cities. Last year, the organisation worked with 662 people, 87% of them homeless or previously homeless; 77% had mental health problems and 65% were disabled. This is long-term work, rooted in a humanly and artistically demanding commitment to weekly workshops. From it come ideas for artistic projects, often linked to special commissions. Among other achievements, Streetwise Opera is a patron of new music. All this leads to public performances that do not imitate (or aim to imitate) professional opera. Rather, they create new artistic expressions, shaped by the interaction of professionals and non-professionals, untrained voices, cultural and political concerns and each performers human experience.
The potential of this work was seen in the BBC TV broadcast of Bach’s St Matthew Passion at Easter 2016. The performance, by Streetwise Opera members and professional singers of The Sixteen, was beautiful and moving. The part of Jesus was played successively by seven Streetwise members, men and women, white and black. The frailty of their singing and their life experience, simply acknowledged, gave Christ devastating vulnerability. Here was a victim whose quiet utterances were overwhelmed by the power of voices trying literally to silence him. The performance—because of, not despite, its rough edges—returned the Easter story to its deepest meaning.