MANCHESTER Opera Ensemble have teamed up with the Women’s Equality Party to create an innovative new production in support of Women’s Aid.

 The project –  a contemporary version of Giacomo Puccini’s 1917 opera ‘Suor Angelica’, set in a women’s refuge – is to be completely funded by members of the public, having already received more than £500 in donations from its crowdfunder page alone.

If successful, the show will take place on December 20 and 21 – however, the venue is yet unconfirmed.

All ticket profits will go towards Women’s Aid, a charity that specialises in helping women and girls who have fallen victim to domestic abuse – a harrowing experience that affects 2.1 million people in the UK each year, as shown in the statistics below.

Timothy Langston, director and founder of the Manchester Opera Ensemble, explains the unique importance of this show.

He said: “Suor Angelica offers audiences a refreshing and nearly unique experience at every performance, all over the world – there are no men!

“In selecting this piece, we set ourselves a challenge to produce a show that would address gender politics head-on, and provide a platform for our performers to voice the issues faced by many women in the UK today.

“Our production is unusual in that we are not setting the story in a convent (where the opera was originally based), but in a fictional Women’s Support Centre called the Women’s Wellness Centre – the residents vary in age and situation, with issues that range from substance abuse, counselling in the wake of domestic or sexual violence to social rehabilitation.”

Langston also cites political activist Sandi Toksvig, a prominent advocate for the Women’s Equality Party (or WEP), as one of the key influences for his creation.

“I was in the audience at Sandi Tokvig’s One-Woman Show. It was shocking to hear the statistics about women’s inequality that she presented.

“This opera seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to try to make a difference through what it is I know best, so I approached the WEP once we had begun casting and they agreed to work with us.”

In exchange for their on-going support, Manchester’s local branch of the WEP will also receive a small portion of the donated funds from the project.

The relatively new party – having been established in 2015 by Toksvig and journalist Catherine Mayer – intends to use this donation to develop its campaign for gender equality, which aims to bring about change across Greater Manchester.

Catherine Aubrey has been a WEP member since May 2015. Speaking to Quays, she explained how their work has already been of crucial importance to men and women throughout the city.

“Our party is doing things like addressing the educational system, for both girls and boys – there’s a strong political message at the moment around girls and harassment in schools, so we have women and men in our party who work with schools all over the country to give talks about this issue.

“Another one of our policy objectives centres around ending domestic violence and abuse for both women and girls – we do plenty of campaigning around that.

“These are just two examples, but there are a lot of structural issues in terms of inequality for women in our society, so a lot of people will benefit from it – both men and women.”

She also champions Langston’s opera as a hard-hitting advocate for social change:

“Although the setting for the opera is a women’s resource centre at christmas, it could be apply to any time, in any woman’s life. It looks at the adversities of sufferers – challenges that women have had to face in their lives and how they’ve overcome them.

“So it’s gonna be gritty, it’s probably gonna be quite hard for some people to hear, but it’s so important to get those messages out – and to do it through the arts, well, it’s just an amazing platform!”

You can hear more about the Women’s Equality Party below.

By Emily Ingram

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