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Written in 2015
The Peasants' Opera
4 singers, choir, school orchestra
60 minutes
Difficulty level: Secondary school pupils and professional soloists
<b>The Peasants' Are Revolting - Scenario</b> This opera follows four peasants as they join the rising of the Kentish rebels in 1381, angry about laws cutting their wages, and the imposition of a Poll Tax. They walk to Blackheath to petition the King and, frustrated by his failure to appear, enter London and witness the violence there before the collapse of the Revolt. The characters: Thomas, a villager. Baritone. He trusts the King will make things better. Matilda, his wife. Mezzo-soprano. She hates the rich Lords, but thinks nothing can be done. Simon, a strange lad. Counter-tenor. He sings about equality and the others think he's mad. John Chandler, a travelling trader. Tenor. An agitator and orator, he feels the violence was ultimately justified. A crowd of villagers, played by the school pupils <b>Act 1 Borden, near Sittingbourne, Kent</b> Thomas and Matilda complain of how bad things are, how they'd hoped things might improve with higher wages, but these had been outlawed. They then recount the arrival of the tax collectors, and particularly how Simon, a lad they had adopted, had been taken away to jail. Thomas describes meeting John, who has news of possible change, but Matilda dismisses this. John arrives, and urges the others to join the growing rebellion and march to Blackheath to petition the King. Simon returns, having been free from jail when the Peasant mob stormed Rochester Castle. He sings of equality. The others pack for the journey. <b>Act 2 Blackheath, 3 days later.</b> John goes down to the river to await the arrival of the King. Matilda gossips about all the friends she has met. Thomas can't quite see over the crowd, and is frustrated by this. Simon occasionally bursts into song a dialogue of the deaf. John sees a boat, but it turns round and goes away. He is in despair. John returns, angry, but says they must now march to London. The others are sceptical. <b>Act 2 A London Church, dusk, some days later.</b> Thomas lying down drunk, and Simon standing. Matilda returns, having seen the violent events, relieved they are safe. Thomas sings drunkenly of sacking the Savoy Palace and drinking the wine. Matilda is cross. He recounts the killing of the Flemings and realises how horrible this was. Matilda condemns him. John returns from the taking of the Tower and killing of the ministers, excited that the evil men have been killed, and convinced that the Peasant leader, Wat Tyler, will now convince the young King to redress their grievances. Matilda reveals that Wat Tyler is dead, and the Peasants have dispersed. She urges them to go home, for fear of their lives. As they leave, they each reflect on the events, and how they feel. John has the last word 'we will be remembered'.
The piece was produced and performed with Charter School in Herne Hill in October 2015. 30 year 8 pupils formed the choir of peasant villagers. The 20-strong school orchestra, along with a professional pianist, formed the band.