Football — at the opera? Indeed, and the charming location of Grange Park Opera in Surrey was the venue for a staging an energetic football opera that attracted a family audience, including children.
All very different from Grange Park Opera’s usual fare, but then Wasfi Kani who founded the establishment is a force of nature who has produced contemporary opera in unusual places, including a prison, where the inmates themselves take part in the chorus.
Now Gods of the Game features the world’s first football fan chorus — real football fans from Newcastle to West Ham were given a crash singing course, courtesy of Ms Kani, to turn their passion into rousing, energising anthems, and they appear on film. Broadening the audience for opera, along with fundraising, is a big part of her life, and this new opera was commissioned by Sky Arts who will broadcast it in November.
The story it tells concerns two childhood friends, Viko and Eva, who once played football on the streets and are now famous players who join forces to front their nation’s bid to host the World Cup. As everyone knows, the higher levels of the game involve big money, which in turn attracts bribery and corruption, in this case overseen by FIFA’s charismatic and all-powerful President. This avuncular man, sung by bass Alan Ewing, claims to be on the side of the underprivileged, but is finally exposed for what he is. Not just in terms of money, but in demanding sexual favours from film-maker Martina (Idunnu Münch).
The President has to decide which country should host the next tournament, by comparing the merits of the case brought by Viko (Michel de Souza) and Eva (Milly Forrest) against their rival headed by Soren (David Webb). The bid is rigged and Soren wins. His country will host the 2030 World Cup. Martina smells corruption, but is also furious about her own sexual mistreatment. She decides to bring the President down.
This will alleviate some nasty pressure on Viko and Eva, but during the final Soren uses dirty tricks to put his opponent out of action, and the referee gives Viko a yellow card. Now losing 2-0 at half time he is ready to give way to a substitute when suddenly he recalls his own youth, and finds hidden stores of energy to attempt a come-back. Can he do it, against a corrupt referee and the smug and vicious Soren?
The gods of the game — the players and the fans — reward his determination. With running commentary by Lee Mack and words from writer and librettist Phil Porter, the Five-a-Side composing team gives us hints of classical hits, including football’s favourite, Nessun Dorma, conducted by George Jackson with the Gascoigne Orchestra. In real life, and football of course, the bad guys do not always get their comeuppance — but this is opera!
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