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If you’ve ever wondered how an opera is created, we brought together Lenny Sayers, composer, and Brendan Wheatley, librettist, and co-director of Swansea City Opera together with Bridgett Gill, to talk about the process of making Shoulder to Shoulder which was developed through a partnership with Men’s Sheds Cymru.

“The starting point for an opera like Shoulder to Shoulder is Swansea City’s Opera’s philosophy that great art is for everyone, and opera is not elitist.  Opera is something that EVERYONE can enjoy.

How often do we hear opera in films, on TV, in adverts or listen to it on radio stations like Classic FM?  Often.

To make a community opera, we choose subjects people can relate to.

And we don’t compromise on excellence just because it’s a ‘community opera’.  That’s selling everyone short.

We work with exceptional artists.

For example, composer Lenny Sayers is a composer and clarinettist whose music has been broadcast on BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, and BBC Radio Scotland.  Many of the cast and musicians appearing in Shoulder to Shoulder have played in major opera houses, companies and orchestras from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden to Welsh National Opera to the London Philharmonic Orchestra.  And the soprano Jess Robinson who plays the role of Gwen is a Wales BBC Cardiff Singer of the World finalist.

Our composer, Lenny, shares our passion for working with ‘real people.”


“The starting point of creating an opera, and the most crucial part, is the writing of the libretto – the story – which is Brendan’s department. Shoulder to Shoulder’s libretto is rooted in the stories Brendan and Bridgett collected from Men’s Sheds Cymru – the ‘Shedders’.  Brendan and I got together to talk about the ‘Shedders’ stories, and then it was my turn to set stories to music.

As a starting point, I read the words over and over and get a sense of the underlying atmosphere and mood. I then sit at the piano and play around with themes until I create something that complements the words and brings them to life. Shoulder to Shoulder uses recurring musical themes throughout which represent the characters and evolve and develop along with their story. The opera is a real rollercoaster of emotions – a scene that is sad or mournful can later be uplifting and positive with a subtle change in tempo or harmony.

Nothing beats the feeling you get hearing the final product, having succeeded in creating a piece of storytelling inspired by a real community.”


“Absolutely!  Working with communities alongside professionals is always good fun and really rewarding.

We see a real mix of people all pulling together and making new friendships.  We see people’s confidence grow and people of different abilities helping each other.

People in our choirs see the professional singers’ and musicians’ discipline and hard work.  Everyone is determined to make a wonderful opera.

Local communities are thrilled to see friends and neighbours up on stage.  People see that opera is something that can be enjoyed and created by everyone from any background.

Opera can make you think, it can make you cry, and it can make you laugh.

We’re delighted to be sharing Shoulder to Shoulder with audiences in Wales.”

Did you enjoy a performance?

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