Hundreds of Schoolchildren Inspired by Opera

03.06.2024
Hundreds of Schoolchildren Inspired by Opera

In its Centenary year, Benenden has partnered with the English National Opera to inspire a new generation of opera lovers across Kent.

Musicians, singers and directors from the world-renowned ENO visited Benenden across three weeks to hold a series of Opera Takeover workshops for local schools, culminating in a spectacular closing concert.

ENO experts taught Benenden’s Lower School Choir – as well as pupils from Cranbrook Church of England Primary School, Benenden Church of England Primary School, Colliers Green CofE Primary School, The John Wallis Church of England Academy, Rolvenden Primary School, Dulwich Cranbrook and Vinehall School – to sing and perform music from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and The Magic Flute.

Benenden’s Director of Partnerships Nick Rendall said: “The talent and expertise on display from the English National Opera has been extraordinary – and allowing our local community to benefit from their hard work has been so valuable.”

The workshops saw students having fun exploring vocal techniques, expressive choreography and some of the elaborate and eccentric costumes the ENO had brought along – helping to make opera more engaging and accessible to pupils who wouldn’t ordinarily have the opportunity.

While on site, singers from the ENO also delighted Benenden students with impromptu, ‘pop-up’ performances, including a stunning programme in the dining hall while the students enjoyed their lunch.

In the third week of the workshop series, all the schools – 340 pupils in total – combined and were led by the ENO in a concert that was open to more than 200 parents, performing the pieces they had learned while also enjoying demonstrations from the ENO’s singers in Benenden’s state-of-the-art Centenary Hall concert venue.

Headmistress Samantha Price said: “We’re absolutely thrilled to have had the opportunity to make opera more widely accessible and enjoyable for our community – and we couldn’t have done this without the incredible effort that has been put in by the English National Opera.

“It was a joy to see students from Benenden and beyond getting wrapped up in their performances and really engaging with classical music – and equally wonderful to see the pride on their parents’ faces at the final concert. This is exactly the kind of enhanced music opportunity we hoped to see flourish at Benenden when we opened the Centenary Hall.”

The partnership with the ENO also enabled Benenden’s history-making production in March of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat on the biggest stage in London’s West End: The London Coliseum, where the ENO is resident. Benenden became the first school to perform at the iconic venue, with an outstanding interpretation of a musical that had never before been staged there.

In his note in the programme, Sir Tim Rice – the show’s lyricist – wrote: “I’m delighted, and frankly amazed, that Benenden are to perform Joseph at the London Coliseum and I’m very grateful that they want to do this. Joseph was written in 1968 and I still find it extraordinary that so many theatrical presentations from schools to Broadway keep returning to the show.”

Reflecting on the wonderful evening, attended by almost 2,000 students, staff, parents, alumnae and friends of Benenden School, Mrs Price said: “Benenden’s performance at the historic London Coliseum was certainly a highlight of our Centenary celebrations and one that we will always cherish.”

Benenden School – founded in 1923 – has been celebrating its Centenary across the 2023-24 academic year with a range of activities, events and initiatives. Highlights include a global conference on Inspiring Future Female Leaders featuring a keynote speech from HRH The Princess Royal, the whole school completing 100 acts of kindness and a special whole school ceremony at Canterbury Cathedral.

Expanding music and performance opportunities at Benenden was a key strategic aim in the run-up to the School’s Centenary, culminating in the construction of the Centenary Buildings: the RIBA nominated Centenary Hall and The Sir David K.P. Li Music School. The development has established one of the South East’s foremost concert halls and enabled the launch of Hemsted Park: a programme of professional performing arts events for the public (more information at www.hemstedpark.com).