COMPOSER MUSIC DIRECTOR RESEARCHER
COMMUNITY & CHILDREN’S OPERA
The Fox at the Manger was written for Music Box Children’s Opera Group at St George’s Bristol. This ‘fable opera for Christmas’ was adapted by the composer from the little-known book by P.L. Travers (author of the Mary Poppins books) with the author’s keen support, in the year before her death. Set in post-war London, a mother and her three children rush through busy streets to attend the traditional children’s carol service at St Paul’s Cathedral. Refusing to give up their toys as gifts, the youngsters make fun of the stuffiness and tameness of the choir and crib scene, with the clergy merely going through the motions of the service.
‘Why weren’t there any wild animals at the crib? Didn’t they have something to give?’
Even the mother asks for more, ‘someone out of breath with running, someone stricken with joy!’ So she leads us into an imagined ‘other’ Christmas story, in which a wild fox brings his special gift to the Manger - to the horror of the ‘domestic’ beasts.
On their way home, the children spot a wild swan flying over London. They imagine it is going to join the Fox ‘there’, at the Manger. The extended finale (a passacaglia) unites the musical forces with words conveying Travers’ vision of uniting ‘wild and tame’ in that place ‘East of the Sun, West of the Moon, or just round the corner . . .’
A Boundless Journey
Music Box Children’s Opera Group Soprano (Dove): Rachel Skinner Mezzo (Mother): Margaret Small Alto (Fox): Caroline Lowe Tenor (Sheep): Jonathan Armitage Baritone (Ass): Niall Hoskin Bass (Ox): Michael Osborn Conducted by the composer, stage direction by Anne Adamson Scoring: flute, clarinet, trumpet, horn, string quartet, double bass, harp, percussion (3 players) 50 mins
Mark has worked extensively on community and education pieces which involve a high degree of input from the participants.
Commissioned by St George’s Bristol the community operas Coming Home and Cosmos each involved over 120 performers of all ages in projects lasting some six months. Working with writer Claire Williamson, words and music were devised in workshops with primary school children who then performed their own scenes. A specially formed community choir of parents (and grandparents), teachers and older students, became the narrators of the story, with professional singers playing the roles of the adults (Brunel and Galileo/Newton respectively).
Coming Home tells the moving story of the life, abandonment and rescue against all odds of Brunel’s famous ship the ssGreat Britain, now restored to its home city of Bristol. The finale brings together words and music written by the children (‘Out of the Channel wide’) with text contemporary with the ship’s launch (‘Queen of the Waters’.)
Coming Home - finale
Baritone (Brunel): Niall Hoskin Mezzo (Alice): Caroline Lowe Children’s and adult choirs from Cabot, Horfield primary schools, St Mary Redcliffe and Temple Secondary School, conducted by the composer, stage direction by Helen Hewitt. Scoring: flute/alto flute, clarinet, string quartet, double bass, piano, harp, percussion 60 mins
Cosmos was commissioned to mark the 400th anniversary of the invention of the telescope and the birth of astronomy. Three scenes, each written and composed with a primary school class, cover different aspects of Space: myths and legends of the ancients; Galileo and the telescope; Isaac Newton and gravity. ‘The earth must be moving, there’s no doubt about it. The sun is at the centre!’ ‘Don’t say that, Galileo. You are under arrest!’
Baritone (Narrator/Galileo/Newton): Niall Hoskin Soprano (Stardust): Laurie Stewart Children’s and adult choirs from Christ the King, and Horfield primary schools, St Mary Redcliffe and Temple Secondary School, conducted by the composer, stage direction by Helen Hewitt Scoring: flute/alto flute, clarinet, string quartet, double bass, piano, harp, percussion 50 mins.
. . an opportunity to sing in a community opera alongside professional musicians. . . gives pupils a special confidence and increases their cultural awareness
Participating school’s OFSTED report, Coming Home
‘Now I feel more brave and confident..’
Year 6 singer, Coming Home
Out of the Channel wide (Familar spires!) Riding the highest tide (St Mary’s, St Nicks) Rounding the horseshoe bend (Up through the Gorge she wades) This is my journey’s end. (Into the city where she was made) Queen of the Waters The World has never seen a sail unfurl’d like mine, On its billowing heaving breast. For ever with me, Bristol town, Here I am, can you hear me? (Alice: Our lives are entwined) Memories come and memories go (Her history, my history). Journey’s end, time to rest, Drop the anchor! Floating on a sea of glass, We’re home at last.