Alban opera a martyr to the cause of unity

THERE were tears, tantrums and high drama at St Alban the Martyr, in Holborn last week, when Alban – The Community Opera, went to London.

The antics were all part of the gripping show that is Alban, which sold out when it ran at St Albans Abbey in May last year and opened for a four-night run last week.

With a cast that brings together a wealth of local talent from musicians to school choirs and professional singers to amateur actors, the Alban opera is an adventurous and professional production with a community at its heart.

The story focuses on Alban, a doctor and family man living in Roman occupied Veralamium (today’s St Albans). His life is changed forever when one night he answers a knock at the door and he invites a stranger in to take shelter. The stranger reveals that he is a wanted man being pursued by Roman soldiers because he is a Christian priest. The decision to shelter and protect the man from the authorities results in a heartbreaking finale in which a family are left desolate and a community is left behind to answer some profound questions about their society and their faith.

The opera juxtaposed the light with the dark effectively, moving from the humorous interplay between Alban and his wife – perfectly capturing domesticity in a way that makes the couple relatable to today’s audience and the ultimate tragedy so heart-wrenching – to the dark paranoia of the Governor, Lucius and his wife, Marcella.

The choral scenes added pace to the performance, allowing the audience to really understand the world Alban lived in and showcased the performances of the amateur singers, many of whom were from City choirs which included insurance companies, banks and publishing head offices. The children’s chorus was made up of pupils who attend St Alban the Martyr primary school and, I was later told, speak an astounding 26 language between them. They add to the sense of fun in the bustling market scenes and draw attention to the tragedy of Alban’s death as his story comes to a close.

The scenes are played out before the Trinity in Glory, a huge mural on the eastern wall of the church, which seemed to come to life as the opera proceeded and the lighting subtly moved the drama on. There are poignant moments throughout when the action below seems to emphasise scenes on the mural above.

Most Read

The orchestra, made up of 22 players, was led by David Ireson and the Church’s acoustics lent themselves to the beautifully simple narrative the music told. The words were accessible and there was a real sense that this was exactly what it purported to be: an opera for all.

It is now hoped that the opera will go on to show in the US next year, where its message of truth but also of unity, as mirrored in its community-centred production, can continue to be seen and heard.