Birmingham Opera Company brings Michael Tippett’s prophetic investigation into race and identity online this summer

Birmingham Opera Company have today announced that they will share some of their ground-breaking and acclaimed work online in the coming months. The organisation, renowned for its radical, bold and immersive productions that put the audience at the very heart of the action is set to share their 2015 production of Tippett’s The Ice Break, on OperaVision (from 30 June), their 2012 production of Stockhausen’s Mittwoch Aus Licht /Wednesday from Light on their own website and as part of Après Demain Festival curated by Ruth Mackenzie (from 4 July) and their 2009 production of Verdi’s Othello on BBC iPlayer as part of the BBC’s Culture in Quarantine season (from 19 June). For both The Ice Break and Mittwoch Aus Licht there will be additional live Q&A’s on the work, for the former with Birmingham Opera Company Artistic Director Graham Vick, Mezz0-Soprano Chrystal E Williams and Artistic Associate Reisz Amos. Dates for the discussions will be announced in due course. In the same period Deutsche Oper present Graham Vick and Jonathan Dove’s version of Das Rheingold in a carpark in Berlin, which sold out in 12 minutes, and began performances on 12 June.

The Ice Break takes place in a warehouse in Digbeth, Birmingham, performed by professional musicians and singers alongside a huge volunteer cast of hundreds from right across the local area. The production engaged over 5000 people, 98% percent of whom had never seen the Company’s work before or potentially even heard of it. The original story opens in an airport where, Lev, who has recently been released is reunited with his wife Nadia and son Yuri who have emigrated and wait for his return. Yuri’s girlfriend also waits in the airport for a famous athlete who she is in awe of. Jealous Yuri attacks the athlete causing events to spiral out of control and sparking racist attacks, violence and acts of brutality across the city.

First performed in 1977, Vick’s production came on the 30th anniversary of Birmingham’s social unrest of 1985, when the summer of that year saw violent social conflict break out on the streets of Handsworth amidst simmering high levels of poverty, over 50% Black youth unemployment and deteriorating police community relations. Over 6 months in 2015, local people came together with artists in-keeping with the themes of the production – exploring breaking ice of society and sharing and creating poetry, dance, music, visual art and film. Vick’s production keys into the urgency of the opera’s continued social relevance as well as bringing huge groups of people and audiences together to question their own attitudes to race and society. The Ice Break will premiere on OperaVision on 30 June and be available for a month, alongside a Q&A with director Graham Vick and artists, details of which are still to be announced.

The company will also present their joyous production of Mittwoch Aus Licht / Wednesday From Light. Previously thought to be unstageable, including flying instrumentalists and string quartet in helicopters, it finally reached its world premiere in Birmingham after two decades of failed attempts by opera houses across the world. It will be available on the Birmingham Opera Company website and Vimeo channel on 4 and 5 July and as part of Théatre du Chatelet’s Après Demain Festival curated by Ruth Mackenzie. As with all the operas in the Light cycle, of which there are seven, this one does not have a traditional plot but four scenes plus a Greeting and a Farewell with virtuoso instrumentalists and soloists, choirs Ex Cathedra and London Voices, Elysian String Quartet, Sound Intermedia and Birmingham Opera Company volunteer performers surrounded by octophonic electronic music exploring love and solidarity. Originally part of London 2012, the fully immersive five hour experience was mounted in a disused chemical factory and live streamed all over the world. Birmingham Opera Company was the first company to ever stage a full performance of the opera, won the UK Opera “Oscar” the Royal Philharmonic Society Award for Opera and listed in the events of the decade in The New Yorker.

Available on BBC iPlayer from today, 19 June, Birmingham Opera Company’s groundbreaking immersive promenade production of Verdi’s Othello from 2009 has previously been aired by BBC TV. The production, when it premiered over a decade ago with Ronald Samm as Othello, was the first ever in the UK with a black singer in the role of Othello alongside black singer Keel Watson playing the white racist, Iago, another first in the UK. The company will host a Q&A on its own Vimeo channel (dates in July to be announced).

From 12 June Deutsche Oper Berlin will launch their season with a 90-minute version of Wagner’s Das Rheingold conducted by Donald Runnicles and by arrangement with Birmingham Opera Company on the parking deck of their building in accordance with social distancing.

Graham Vick, Artistic Director, Birmingham Opera Company said: “These troubled times have exposed once again how far our society is from being equal or fair. We need to do better. Birmingham Opera Company has spent the last 20 years experimenting, researching and exploring ways of presenting opera that will engage and embrace each and every element of our socially diverse city. Tens of thousands of Birmingham citizens have helped shape and create the projects we are able to stream. These epic live events were steps along a way that is always a struggle. But when our Birmingham peoples together recoil in horror at Verdi’s Othello, are swept up in the violence of The Ice Break and transported by Stockhausen’s Wednesday, there is light at the end of the tunnel.”