Belongings: Music and Migration at Glyndebourne

The following article was first published in the November 2017 edition of Viva Lewes magazine:

Walking into the staff café at Glyndebourne, I find myself surrounded by dozens of excited children who are taking a break from rehearsing a new opera. ‘Belongings’, composed by Lewis Murphy with words by Laura Attridge, compares the lives of World War 2 evacuees with present-day refugees fleeing war zones. As the youngsters return to the stage, Lewis sits down with a coffee. I ask him if there’s a moral to the story. “If there is a moral, it’s about learning from history”, he tells me. “It’s about openness and human connection. As well as entertaining the audience, I’m hoping we can make them ask questions of themselves.”

Glasgow-born Lewis has been Glyndebourne’s Young Composer in Residence since 2015, before which, he admits, “opera was quite new to me”. He’s clearly a fast learner. As well as composing ‘Belongings’, he’s subsequently been commissioned with librettist Laura to write for Scottish Opera. Should we expect more music from the Attridge and Murphy partnership? “Whether we actually brand it as that, who knows. But in terms of setting ourselves up and promoting ourselves as creators of new opera, it’s something we are interested in. We’ve reached a point now where we feel comfortable working together.”

This type of collaborative approach runs throughout Belongings. “Lucy Bradley, our director, was involved from the very beginning of the project, talking with me and the librettist about the story and trying to structure the narrative of the whole piece. And Lee Reynolds, our conductor, has also been heavily involved.”

Earlier this year, culture and arts project The Complete Freedom of Truth arranged for all four members of the creative team to visit the Italian town of Sarteano and meet young people in a refugee community. Lucy encouraged the community to perform an improvised drama that represented ‘home’. “It was really heart-warming, touching and very humbling for us to see what these guys missed”, Lewis says. “It was the first time we’d actually had direct contact with people who’d been through that situation.”

Insight from the trip has been passed on to the 65 members of Glyndebourne Youth Opera, aged between 9 and 19, who are singing alongside three professional singers: Rodney Earl Clarke, Leslie Davis and Nardus Williams. “The production taking shape here looks incredible, so I’m really excited to see what happens.” There’s a special show for schools followed by one public performance – but what next? “I would love to get it performed again”, Lewis says. “I think it is still a very relevant piece for our times. Themes of displacement and people being thrown into a new environment; these have happened throughout history and will probably continue to happen. As soon as you create conflict, people have to move.”

Belongings will be performed at Glyndebourne on Saturday 11 November. Tickets available from 01273 815000 / glyndebourne.com