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Thursday, 22 February, 2001, 08:30 GMT
Birmingham's opera for the masses
Ken Hill and Michelle Grant
First time performers Ken Hill and Michelle Grant
World famous opera director Graham Vick is unveiling his latest project to the public - a production of Berg's Votzek at a warehouse in Ladywood in Birmingham.

Vick, who is famed for his productions from Glyndebourne to Milan's La Scala to The Metropolitan in New York, has placed this production in one Birmingham's most deprived areas in an attempt to make it more relevant.

Amateur actors and dancers will join professional singers and orchestra in this staging of Alban Berg's 1920s opera, originally known as Wozzeck, in modern dress and in English.

Graham Vick
Graham Vick, whose colourful Falstaff opened the ROH in 1999
"I think one of the things that puts new audiences off new opera is theatres themselves and the existing audience," Vick told the BBC.

"I wanted to do a project that was well away from the glamorous West End or city centres or big plush theatres - somewhere where people live."


A bus, a fire engine and numerous items of machinery line the walls of the space where the opera, which tells the story of a poor young soldier who subjects himself to medical experiments for the money, will be performed.

The dramatic theme of a powerless individual driven to desperation is something Vick hopes general audiences will relate to.

"The piece has an immediacy, an emotional power that goes way beyond the word understanding, " he said.

"It is easy to relate to and the music has immediacy and power."

You cannot fail to be affected and fascinated

Graham Vick
After four performances in Birmingham, Votzek will be staged in an aircraft hangar in Liverpool, a sports centre in Sheffield and in Porto, Portugal, this year's European Capital of Culture.

A free bus is being laid on to take people to the warehouse from Birmingham city centre.

Mobile audience

A local community cast is being recruited in each city.

The Birmingham cast includes members from the Birmingham Rep's youth company, a young Asian theatre company and unemployed youngsters who are doing apprenticeships in the creative arts.

The audience will wander around, following the scenes, as there will not be any seating, something Vick sees as a real advantage.

"You could be two feet away from an opera singer singing in full voice and really understand the physicality and effort and emotional intensity that gives."

"You cannot fail to be affected and fascinated."

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