Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival 2021 Focuses on the World’s Future

By Chris Ruel

This article was written in collaboration with David Salazar.

The U.K.’s Tête à Tête’s Festival 2021 will gaze into the future, both utopian and dystopian with programming that includes opera dating apps, sword-wielding sopranos, and an interactive operatic ritual. Here’s a look at what’s in store for festival-goers.

Kicking off the Festival is a live performance of “Her War.” The opera, with music by Edwin Roxburgh and words by Jonathan Ruffle, is based on academic data that explored the parallels between the traumatizing experiences of World War I nurses with those who worked on hospital COVID units. Scored for trumpet and soprano, the opera relates the story of a WWI nurse who returns home to an indifferent government, turning her into a force for nurses’ rights.

Performance Dates: July 27, 2021

Broadcast Date: July 29, 2021

Next up is a performance of “HER BODY: The Anatomy of a Woman.” The work features soundscapes, music, video, and Susannah Self performing as SEAWOLF. “HER BODY” features references to Wagner’s Ring Cycle, extended vocalizations mingled with sea sounds and film, and SEAWOLF, a combination of physical theater and minimalistic music that challenges traditional operatic interpretations of what it feels like to be a woman. Artist Yayoi Kusama, Billie Eilish and Pina Bausch inspired the show.

Performance Dates: July 28, 2021

Broadcast Date: July 30, 2021 

The Marquis de Sade sets out on a quest to find his lost libido in Darren Berry’s “The Crocodile of Old Kang Pow.” This comic opera set in the 18th-century Paris and a tropical jungle, follows the Marquis to a mythical world where he petitions the Crocodile God of fertility, but finds out the Crocodile has libido issues of his own. De Sade better get his mojo back or Marie Antoinette will place his neck on the chopping block.

Performance Dates: July 29, 2021

Broadcast Date: Aug. 1, 2021

Like to bargain? This year’s festival features “Come Bargain with Uncanny Things,” during which Virtually Opera and the audience will create the music and the words to Leo Doulton’s concept and structure. Singers CN Lester and Will Davies will lend their voices to the performance. The production is an exploration of interactive, immersive opera, with the audience taking part in bargaining, researching, and pouring on the charm to resolve incidents that will determine the success or failure of the ritual.

Performance Dates: July 30, 2021

Broadcast Date:  Aug. 1, 2021

Based on William Wordsworth’s “Guide to the Lakes,” and billed as a theatrical picnic, Story Tree’s new music theater piece, “Guide to the Lakes,” features music by Lente Verelst and Hans Vercauteren. Actor Charles Sobry takes on the role of guide and sometimes even of Wordsworth himself as he escorts the audience on a trek through the Lake District.

Performance Dates: July 31, 2021

Broadcast Date: Aug. 2, 2021

Manchester’s Contemporary Youth Opera will present “EXPO MYCO: a thread through change,” showcasing operas written for film and stage. The production takes the audience through three short operas originally conceived in both “real-Manchester” (2019) and “virtual-Manchester” (2020). The opera-film “Adventure through Mother Earth’s Sewing Box” (2020), first created during lockdown, is brought together with the pre-pandemic worlds of “Adela” and “Glimmerings” (2019) in a shifting live/virtual operatic landscape for the 2021 Festival.  “Adventure through Mother Earth’s Sewing Box” features creative artists JEFSMN, Eleanor Austin, Nadia Eskandari, Sohaila Ferrier, Fraz Ireland, Jessica Rowley, Mia Serracino-Inglott. “Adela,” was composed by Pat Shepherd with words by Arabella Watkiss, and composer Dan Nolan put music to Sam Woof McColl’s words in “Glimmerings.” MCYO Alums Nadia Eskandari, James Gillett, and Mia Serracino-Inglott curated the show.

Performance Dates: Aug. 2, 2021

Broadcast Date: Aug. 6, 2021

Alice d’Lumiere performs her own words in this non-opera about opera. D’Lumiere, a full-time performance poet and part-time woman, presents her work, “Until the Trans Lady Sings – An Autobiographical Spoken Word Overture.”

Performance Dates: Aug. 2

Broadcast Date: Aug. 6, 2021

Composer Anna Vienna Ho and lyricist Roxanne Korda’s “The Monk of the River,” is based on one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature, “Journey to the West,” by Wu Cheng’en. Ho’s score calls for an ensemble of Chinese and Western instruments and blends both musical traditions. This new opera explores Cheng’en’s novel in a fresh way that tells the complete story and is rooted in Chinese folk religion, mythology, and Confucianist, Taoist and Buddhist philosophies. Michael TK Lam leads the cast as Xuanzang, Valerie Wong as Wenjiao, James Gribble as Guangrui, Franco King as The Dragon King, Deirdre McCabe as Madame Zhang, Michael Yuen as Hong, Patricia Yates as Biao, Edwin Dizer as Monk Faming, Roxanne Korda as Madame Hu, Lixin Liu as Chunmei/Fish Soldier/Monkey King, Kaiying Wang as Yaska, Matthew Secombe as Hua An/Feng/Crab General, and Alexander Pratley as Fisherman/Yue/Turtle Minister. The opera’s interactive broadcast begins with the opera’s prologue “Buddha and the Monkey King.”

Performance Dates: Aug. 3, 201`

Broadcast Date: Aug. 5, 2021

While There’s Light,” an opera by composer Sarah Sarhandi with words by Vincent Katz, is based on Katz’s award-winning translations of the love poems of 1st century BCE Roman poet Sextus Propertius. The opera relates a tale of love, lust, obsession, mistrust, hatred, death, and immortality that’s as relevant today as then. Performers include mezzo-soprano Loré Lixenberg, mezzo-soprano Rosie Middleton, tenor Ebe Oke, percussionist Mark Sanders and violist Sarah Sarhandi.

Performance Date: Aug. 4 

Broadcast Date: August 7, 2021

Next up is Matteo Fania and Giovanni Privitera’s “The Castle of Crossed Destinies,” produced by mg2 Opera group. The opera, which will be directed by Matteo Fania, Giovanni Privitera, and Matteo Prvitera, will star baritone Iván Barbeitos.

Performance Date: August 4, 2021

Broadcast Date: August 4, 2021

Stitched-up theatre will showcase “The Unravelling Fantasia of Miss H,” which was written and composed by Red Gray and Sarah Nicolls. The work portrays a Victorian woman imprisoned by a society intent on control. The showcase will star Red Gray, Sarah Nicolls, and Katie Webster. Zoe Bouras will direct.

Performance Date: August 5, 2021

Broadcast Date: August 8, 2021

Zeitgeist will spotlight Marco Galvani’s “Helena,” a sci-fi romance and meditation on transhumanism based on Karel Capek’s famed 1920 play “Rossum’s Universal Robots.” The opera will be directed by Annemiek van Elst and produced by Jessie Anand. 

Performance Date: August 6, 2021

Broadcast Date: August 9, 2021

The Voice Party will invite audiences to interact with “SINGLR,” an APP-ERA with a user profile that “is the voice and nothing more! No words or speaking are allowed, no photos, and no info about the participant at all apart from their voice, and it is this complex vocalization that forms the ‘sonic shape’ avatar that represents the performer throughout the performance. Imagine the delightfully cheesy dating programs ‘Take Me Out,’ ‘The Undateables,’ and ‘Love is Blind’ combined with Stockhausen’s Licht cycle!”

Performance Date: August 6, 2021

Broadcast Date: August 9, 2021

Helen Caddick’s “Sophie” is next on the slate. The work focuses on a member of the Dada movement who struggled throughout her life until her death in 1943. The opera will be directed by Lucy Bradley and will star Elizabeth Lynch, Neil Balfour, as well as dancers Yanaëlle Thiran and Aaron Baksh. Chris Hopkins conducts. 

Performance Date: August 7, 2021

Broadcast Date: August 10, 2021

Omelas Creations will showcase Liam Noon and Susan Gray’s “MOTHERLODE,” which features an experimental conversation with singers’ voices and artificial copies of them. Jim Osman directs with natash Agarwal and Julieth Lozano starring. 

Performance Date: August 7, 2021

Broadcast Date: August 10, 2021

Charlotte Marlow and Cecil Castellucci’s “The Language of Flowers” will be produced by Medusa Collective. The work focuses on the legend of Princess Pauline Metternich, framed by the rounds of her emancipated sword duel with Countess Anastasia von Kielmannsegg. The opera will star Fiona Marchbank, Vicky Leta, and Rumbidzai Savanhu. 

Performance Date: August 8, 2021

Broadcast Date: August 11, 2021

The Hildegard von Bingen Society for Gardening Companions will showcase “bingenTV.” This documentary-opera will present audiences with the queer-feminist collective founded by the medieval mystic and musician that bears its name.

Performance Date: August 8, 2021

Broadcast Date: August 11, 2021

Venus Bushfires will present a “Cubbitt Session” headlined by Nigerian-British singer-songwriter, composer, and abstractionist artist Helena Epega.

Performance Date: August 16, 2021

The festival will draw to a close with “RUNE,” featuring music and words by Alastair White. The work focuses on a girl who decides to tell her story in a world where history is forbidden.

Performance Date: August 17, 2021

Broadcast Date: Sept. 17, 2021