Rebecca Bottone and company members in Idomeneo (Blackheath Halls Community Opera)
Rebecca Bottone and company members in Idomeneo (Blackheath Halls Community Opera)
© Robert Workman

One of London's best kept secrets is the annual Blackheath Halls Community Opera, an initiative whose uniqueness rests in its marriage of top professionals with around 200 residents from local boroughs who join forces with them each year. For their 2015 production, Mozart's Idemeneo, the chorus has included primary school children and students from special schools.

Like its predecessors over the previous eight years, the show's figureheads are stars whose names are familiar to anyone who follows opera in this country. Mark Wilde is Idomeneo and Sam Furness sings Idamante, while Rebecca Bottone is Ilia and Kirstin Sharpin sings Elettra. They are joined by final year vocal students from Trinity Laban in what is a top-of-the-range pro-am enterprise.

It's the first time that pupils from Mulgrave Primary School, Woolwich and Beecroft Garden Primary School, Lewisham have participated in this annual project which aims to introduce audiences of all ages to opera. They've joined students from two special schools, Greenvale School, Lewisham and Charlton Park Academy. Local residents perform in the Blackheath Halls Orchestra and the opera chorus, working alongside a professional creative team led by director James Hurley and musical director Nicholas Jenkins.

'Opera is cool!'

Jenkins cannot contain his enthusiasm. "I have been bowled over by the reaction of our performers to Mozart's music. The Blackheath Halls Community Opera is all about getting people involved in opera who might have never seen or performed in one before. We seek to break down the notion that opera is for the privileged."

Nicholas Sharratt  as Count Ory and Anna Devin as Countess Adèle in Count Ory (Blackheath Halls Community Opera 2014)
Nicholas Sharratt as Count Ory and Anna Devin as Countess Adèle in Count Ory (Blackheath Halls Community Opera 2014)

Hurley agrees, and praises the spirit of everyone involved. "Blackheath Halls Community Opera is just a wonderful way of bringing the community together and of introducing people to opera who would not normally go. It offers children who might never have even heard of opera before, the fantastic opportunity of performing in one alongside professional soloists.

"I've been so impressed by their commitment and enthusiasm throughout the rehearsal period. I think this project can have such a big impact on our young performers. It can really broaden their horizons. Our professional soloists are really enjoying taking part and have been blown away by the enthusiasm and energy of the chorus."

In last year's opera, Rossini's Count Ory, the leading role of Countess Adèle was taken by soprano Anna Devin, who is currently riding high following rave reviews as Nanetta in the Royal Opera's Falstaff. "It was an immense pleasure to be involved with a wonderful community. Hopefully we inspired the children."

The answer to that comes from a pupil at Beecroft Garden Primary School. "I love singing! Opera is fun! Idomeneo is cool! I love acting! Opera is cool!"

There are two further performances of Idomeneo tonight, Friday 17 July at 7.00 pm, and Sunday 19 July at 2.30 pm.