Classics to share Royal Opera House stage with experimental works

Covent Garden to put on trio of 30-minute Opera Shots along with traditional heavyweights

Madame Butterfly and Tosca are to share Britain's greatest opera stage this year with singers belting out football chants and nervously discussing a pregnancy test.

The summer season at the Royal Opera House will highlight three short pieces by contemporary composers, reviving a tradition of experiment and fun that has been overshadowed in recent times by grand and expensive premieres.

Lasting no more than half an hour, the trio of "Opera Shots", a phrase coined last year with an experimental programme, are part of a continuing campaign to shed opera's "posh" image. This includes a competition on Twitter to summarise any of opera's serpentine plots in 140 characters, and recent work based on the loneliness of London commuters.

The presence in one of the mini-operas of a chorus of Wags – footballers' wives and girlfriends – has also extended ticket inquiries beyond Covent Garden's usual base.

The commissions are not light on intellectual input, however, with Nitin Sawhney researching calculus and quantum physics for his Entanglement, the "shot" based on a pregnancy test. Sawhney, originally co-founder with Sanjeev Bhaskar of the comedy team The Secret Asians, is an acclaimed musician and tapped into many of opera's more mainstream counterparts including jazz, electronic music and film festivals.

The Wags appear in Ingerland by Jocelyn Pook, who also enlists Millwall's No One Likes Us, We Don't Care in her libretto. Audiences more used to lines about tiny hands being frozen or Valkyries charging about, will also get Liverpool's "Steve Gerrard, Gerrard, He's big and he's fucking hard."

The performances in June include video interviews with supporters at leading grounds visited by Pook, a composer and musician whose past work includes a joint piece for the Proms with the poet laureate Andrew Motion. The third "shot" is by Orlando Gough, whose TV opera The Mathematics of a Kiss has been described as reinventing the venerable genre as pop video.

Traditionalists will find echoes of opera's many plots involving lamenting women, in the worries expressed by Pook's Wags about whether or not to undergo cosmetic surgery. But John Lloyd Davies, head of opera development at the Royal Opera House, said that he was after work which would "shake things up" and extend the appeal of opera to a new audience.


Martin Wainwright

The GuardianTramp

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