When the echoes of enslavement remain everywhere, how can we come together to understand its legacy?
The Royal Opera House today announces Insurrection: A work in progress – a series of semi-staged sharings in the Linbury Theatre, based on a new work currently in development that explores how we come together to understand the legacy of enslavement. The events will run from Tuesday 21 – Saturday 25 March 2023 which is International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Over 200 years on from the Barbados Rebellion (16 April 1816) – an uprising organised by enslaved men and women who worked on the island’s many estates and plantations – baritone, artist and broadcaster Peter Brathwaite is developing Insurrection – investigating his own ancestors, who were enslaved workers and enslavers on sugar plantations in Barbados. Insurrection charts the story of rebellion and resistance in Barbados, and celebrates the human need to gather, move, make music, and tell stories, amid, and in response to, oppression.  Insurrection will be workshopped and rehearsed in the Linbury Theatre throughout March, culminating in a series of sharings presented in the round to schools, community groups and the public. At these sharings, audience members will be asked to reflect on the work, discuss the stories told and explore the music’s impact.  Taking its cue from the radical folk traditions of enslaved Black workers in Barbados, the work will feature a musical playlist of folk songs sung by enslaved workers and their descendants. This includes rebel music banned on plantations due to the fear of hidden messages, British pro-slavery propaganda songs, abolitionist hymns, and 19th century opera enjoyed by enslavers.  Peter Brathwaite explains: ‘As someone with Caribbean heritage, exploring these stories, songs and traditions has helped me to understand the many ways enslaved people rebelled against slavery. Insurrection is inspired by the determination of enslaved people to gain their freedom. The songs they sang and the way they lived are vital examples of endurance for all those fighting for their rights.’ The work is a collaboration between baritone Peter Brathwaite, director Ellen McDougall, writer Emily Aboud, and music director Yshani Perinpanayagam who is arranging the original material. The team will be joined by a soprano, and five musicians including percussionist Rosie Bergonzi. The work is programmed by the Royal Opera and produced by Fay Jennett, with the support of Cultural Consultant Dr Stefan Walcott.  Speaking of the project, creative producers of the Linbury Theatre Kate Wyatt and Sarah Crabtree said: ‘The Linbury Theatre plays a leading role in developing a new opera canon, and as we seek to innovate the form and narrative of opera, the process we use to make work also needs to develop. As a company it’s critical we invest in our artists and enable the interrogation of ideas, by providing space to experiment as they develop themselves and their practice.’  The project will seek to capture the experiences, reflections and questions evoked for audiences through a set of post-sharing Q&As and follow up workshops. By partnering with six London secondary schools and engaging audiences with Caribbean heritages these workshops will open a dialogue between audience members and the creative team, supporting all involved to explore the role music plays in making us who we are.  On Friday 24 March, Barbadian pianist, composer and academic Dr Stefan Walcott will be in conversation with Linbury Creative Producer Sarah Crabtree in a special Insight in the Linbury Theatre.  Kate Wyatt and Sarah Crabtree add: ‘It’s exciting to be sharing the development of Insurrection with audiences and inviting them to take part in the discussion which will shape the future of the work. Peter is a long-time collaborator of the Linbury, it’s a pleasure to bring him and this wonderful collection of artists together in this way to explore such an important subject, here at the Royal Opera House.’