Synthetica: a toxic enchantment ONLINE

16 September 2020
Synthetica is a chamber opera about plastics with libretto and music by Karen Wimhurst, created during her residency at MoDiP. Following my post of 22 July, I am pleased to share the good news that Arts Council England have agreed that, because of the shut down of theatres caused by Covid 19, we can use our grant, intended to further performance of the work, in a different way. The project team has already met, some in person and some online, to work out how to develop the opera levering value from the virtual platform. Who knows, it could even turn out to have greater impact and we will not lose sight of the importance of again providing live performances when that becomes possible.

Currently there are eleven sung chapters that tell the story of plastics from the early expectations of this essentially modern materials group to the current troubling reality. These existing chapters will be presented Zoom-like by the singer, Brittany Soriano, and the trumpeter, Elaine Close, with vinyl accompaniment, reflecting the new normal. The viewer will be able to experience whichever chapter they feel drawn to, selecting from a turntable of possibilities along these lines, although the design is still very much work in progress:
Synethetica A toxic enchantment

Each chapter will provide inspiration for learning resources, which will be accessed through six objects from the MoDiP collection that tie in with the lyrics.

For example these lines from the chapter ‘Utopian Dream’:

Nature’s larder will be left untouched

Grained ivory, turtle shell, amber, horn,

mother of pearl, coral and the lac beetle

ebony, mahogany and oak,

the whale swims in the blue ocean

the elephant runs free

the leatherback turtle saved

might be accompanied by items such as these:
Turtle shell

Ivoride sample

Shellac recording

Black and gold back comb

Electrical meter

Ivory coloured powder bowl

Each MoDiP object will be the trigger for a particular learning resource aimed at Key Stages 3 to 5 (ages 11-18) consisting of a cross curricular series of ideas and tasks.

The opera itself poses the question where are we going now? Given the lesson history shows us, what are the possibilities in the new world we enter? With this in mind the website will contain a new chapter in the opera as imagined by young people.

We propose holding online workshops. The trumpeter and the composer will demonstrate trumpet techniques and approaches to writing fanfares. The singer and composer will collaborate on composition workshops in which small snatches of libretto will be written and sung. Participants will then be invited to submit their fanfares and thoughts about the future of plastics directly to the website. In addition to creating a new chapter we will build a resource from their ideas looking to the future value of plastics while acknowledging the issues that make many uneasy about the material group’s prevalence.
Susan Lambert, Chief Curator, MoDiP.