Unique PhD collaboration between poet and composer to create new full-length opera

The piece will receive a broadcast concert performance from the BBC Philharmonic

Niall Campbell (l - image Rachael Da Silva Burton) and Anna Appleby (r) will collaborate on the new opera

Niall Campbell (l - image Rachael Da Silva Burton) and Anna Appleby (r) will collaborate on the new opera

A creative academic collaboration between a poet and composer will culminate in the production of a brand-new opera.

A PhD student each from Manchester Metropolitan University and the Royal Northern College of Music, an early career poet and composer respectively, will combine to create the new work, supervised and mentored by an internationally renowned librettist and composer who already collaborate on operatic works.

The new contemporary opera will receive support and mentoring plus a broadcast concert performance from the BBC Philharmonic.

The three-year project, part of the North West Consortium Doctoral Training Partnership, has been funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council Collaborative Doctorate Award, and offers a combination of cross-disciplinary supervision and collaboration between two higher education institutions and a leading orchestra and broadcaster.

It meets a growing artistic need for newly commissioned operas – there is no set theme or style for the two students’ production – particularly in producing text-led contemporary orchestral and operatic music.

The successful PhD candidates are poet Niall Campbell, who will be supervised by Michael Symmons Roberts, accomplished librettist and Professor of Poetry at Manchester Metropolitan, and composer Anna Appleby, whose supervisor is Emily Howard, Professor of Composition at the Royal Northern College of Music. Roberts and Howard recently combined to produce The Anvil for Manchester International Festival, a new choral composition marking the bicentenary of the Peterloo Massacre.

Professor Symmons Roberts said: “This is a rare opportunity for supervisors and mentors as well as for the students themselves. The partnership between poet and a composer is one of the great collaborative relationships in the arts, with a long and rich history. To be able to support a new collaboration between Anna and Niall, and to strengthen the existing links between the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Met, the RNCM and the BBC Philharmonic is a great honour. We can’t wait to get started.”

Professor Michael Symmons Roberts, who will supervise Niall Campbell

Professor Howard said: “I am greatly looking forward to working with Anna, Niall and Michael in this exciting new venture that connects the RNCM, Manchester Met and BBC Philharmonic in a novel way. I’m passionate about the development of new opera and deeply interested in creative processes and therefore relish this opportunity to examine and further knowledge in these arenas through nurturing the joint creative practice of two impressive young artists.”

Simon Webb, Director of the BBC Philharmonic, said: “Working in partnership with our colleagues at the RNCM and Manchester Metropolitan is an important and particularly rewarding part of our role at the BBC Philharmonic. Nurturing new talent, and creating opportunities for that talent to flourish, are a reflection of the culture of a broadcast orchestra.

The partnership between poet and a composer is one of the great collaborative relationships in the arts, with a long and rich history. To be able to support a new collaboration between Anna and Niall, and to strengthen the existing links between the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Met, the RNCM and the BBC Philharmonic is a great honour.

“For an orchestra, performing opera is one of the fundamental skills that nourishes and challenges the ensemble individually and collectively. Being part of the development of new opera, culminating in a studio performance of the new work, fits perfectly with our ambition to reach new audiences with new music.”

The BBC Philharmonic is an internationally renowned orchestra based in Salford and performing a regular concert series at Manchester’s world class classical venue, The Bridgewater Hall.

Professor Emily Howard, who will supervise Anna Appleby (image: Sam Fairbrother)

Campbell’s first poetry collection Moontide was the inaugural winner of the £20,000 Edwin Morgan Poetry Prize in 2014, and received the Saltire First Book of the Year. Noctuary, his second UK collection, was published in April and has been shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Collection.

He said: “I'm delighted at the opportunity to test myself creatively. Opera has a fine tradition of poets bringing something different to the libretto, and I hope I can do this tradition justice. The collaboration with someone as talented as Anna, with the oversight and guidance of the institutions involved, all combine to make for a project I can't wait to get started.”

Appleby has written for world-leading orchestras, including the Royal Northern Sinfonia, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the orchestra of Dutch National Ballet, and has had her music showcased internationally and on BBC Radio 3. She is a composer-in-residence at Glyndebourne, has a first-class degree in music from Oxford (2014) and a masters degree in composition from RNCM (2016), where she was a finalist in the Gold Medal Competition and won the Rosamond Prize for her collaboration with poet Merrie Williams.

The collaboration with someone as talented as Anna, with the oversight and guidance of the institutions involved, all combine to make for a project I can't wait to get started.

She said: “I can't wait to start working with Niall, and we have the beautiful end goal of creating an opera for the BBC Philharmonic and RNCM singers to perform here in Manchester. It is an invaluable chance for me to develop as a composer through intensive research and collaboration, so this couldn't come at a better time.”

I can't wait to start working with Niall, and we have the beautiful end goal of creating an opera for the BBC Philharmonic and RNCM singers to perform here in Manchester.

Over the course of their PhDs, which officially begin in September, Campbell and Appleby will develop methods and skills in making texts for music, explore and learn from existing repertoire and develop new music and text settings, initially on the scale of songs. These smaller ‘sketch’ experiments will develop, as the PhDs progress, into a focus on the major ‘work’ – a new opera or oratorio.

Next Story Trick and treat: Biggest-ever Gothic Manchester Festival returns for spooky extravaganza
Previous Story Radical reforms to local authorities have gone ‘unnoticed and unchallenged’ against the backdrop of Brexit