Freedom Studios are famous for performing works in unusual settings but with their new production Ice Cream: The Opera they have outdone themselves.
This new half hour opera actually takes place in two real ice cream vans as the singers battle it out across Bradford’s Centenary Square on Sunday 30th July.
As well as working with Skipton Building Society Camerta and Spin Arts they have hired legendary poet Ian McMillan– aka the Bard of Barnsley – to write the libetto. He is telling the tale of Romano and Geetha who have fallen in love, but sadly for them their families are locked in a bitter turf war.
“It’s almost like Romeo and Juliet, or West Side Story, so it’s so a boy meet girl love story, but the big difference is it all happens in ice cream vans,” says Ian.
“That’s the amazing thing about it as when we did the research the biggest thing was to get it performed on ice cream vans as this is for people who aren’t normally used to seeing theatre. Part of our excitement would if they were actually walking past thinking they might be buying an ice cream and suddenly an opera singer starts singing to them.”
Creating a contemporary chamber opera in ice cream vans did throw up some unusual technical challenges as the vehicles are noisy beasts with generators constantly running to keep all the sweet goodies frozen. But once the tech team had overcome those difficulties it was time to focus on the show which in common with many Freedom Studios production features a chorus of singers drawn from the local community, including members of Bradford Friendship Choir for asylum seekers and friends.
“The idea is two ice cream vans will turn up separately. One van will be run by an Asian ice cream selling family and the other is an Italian ice cream family. Two of their kids fall in love and I won’t reveal the ending, but I’m sure it all ends happily, and everyone gets a nice cornet with a flake in it.
“The community chorus is going to gather round the ice cream vans, so it will be like a crowd round the ice cream sellers, and there a couple of soloists on the vans with some live music. We can safely say that it is the first time in the history of human civilisation that an opera had been performed on ice cream vans.”
This cross cultural love story featuring four singers is the perfect fit for a city that has always welcomed people who have arrived from across the globe seeking to build new communities and lives.
“The great thing about Bradford is it a cross cultural melting pot of all kinds of cultures and that’s the exciting thing as ice cream crosses cultures. Most communities like ice cream, even if they are very specific in their tastes, so the plot is about potential division between two different ice cream types so it is perfect for Bradford.
“I think opera is great for these fractious times we are going through where everyone is shouting and cross, but the great thing about opera is that it wears its heart on its sleeve. I always compare it to country music as it is full of emotion – lonely, happy, sad or in love – and it’s the same, with opera and the great thing is about contemporary opera it is music for people now.”
McMillan is a man who has always moved with the times so it comes as no surprise that Ice Cream: The Opera with a flavour of Indian music thrown into the score was composed in a very modern way.
“The interesting thing is that Russell Sarre, who set the music to my words, is Australian and lives in America, so the whole thing was written over the internet,” recalls McMillan. “I sent him some words and he replied on the middle of the night so I’d send some back at what I thought was a sensible time, but it was the middle of the night in America, so that was the 21st century thing.”
In his day job McMillan is an internationally renowned poet - who always speaks and writes in his own distinctive regional voice - so was there any similarities between writing verse and an opera.
“They are both about trying to manipulate words and when I first started writing words for music I made the mistake of using too many words. I’d give them the words and they’d say you’ve just written an opera that is 18 hours long because the music has to do half the job.
“It teaches me to write something simple because the audience are going to hear it once and you have tell a story whereas in poetry you can use images.
“There are simple things like you have to write a lot more vowels, and not so many consonants, because it is harder to sing consonants than vowels. For somebody like me who is interested in language it really makes you think.”
If you are one of the 1 in 7 Brits who think opera is not for you then the ever down to earth Ian McMillan hopes people will take a stroll over to the van to break down some self-imposed mental barriers - and maybe have fun too.
When: Sunday 30th July – 1pm, 3pm & 5.15pm
Where: City Park, Centenary Square, Bradford, BD1 1HY
Admission free. No tickets required.
Ice Cream: The Opera is part of the Bradford Festival 2017. For more information visit www.freedomstudios.co.uk