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A first-breath-to-last-breath music theatre piece, for three female singers, with interventions by a girl’s chorus and an adult chorus


An investigation of the way that breathing is affected by emotion and physical effort, and how that affects singing - running, falling in love, dreaming, giving birth, receiving bad news, making a speech, getting ill….. the whole range of life experiences.

Watch the film



Inside the outside the

In out

Long short

Deep shallow

Open the close the

Pull push

Speed up slow down

A breath

A hundred breaths

A thousand breaths

A hundred million breaths

Feed on the thick thin air

The air feed the blood heart pump

In out round

The hidden labyrinth

Life support machine


Score available on request


Performers: Melanie Pappenheim, Esme Herbert, Nettleham Community Choir

Directed by Emma Bernard

A 20-minute music theatre piece, first performed in the Guildhall, the 800-year-old council chamber in Lincoln, by Melanie Pappenheim and her daughter Esme Herbert and the Nettleham Community Choir, led by Liz McIntosh. At a council meeting, the Mayor, played by Melanie, confident, conservative, cautious, is confronted by Esme who appears from the public gallery to challenge her preconceptions. A piece about maintenance versus renewal, rationale versus emotion.


Watch here



Gossip, make-up, sandwiches.


1 Ritual

Bell, hat, mace, handbag





Mayor:            Councillors:                                                    

Stone               Bow                                                                                                                

Sheep              Fold

Cotton             Field

Scarlet             Green

Up hill             Down hill


Measuring out the sword’s length


2 The Mayor’s Statement



Why are we all here?

To adopt to improve to appoint to amend to uphold to approve to agree

To authorize to allocate to scrutinize to negotiate to make enquiries


Mayor and Councillors:                                                                                            

to make appropriate enquiries                                                                               



To receive to respond to restore to remove to refuse

To revise to respect to retweet to revoke to review


Mayor and Councillors:

Information analysis procedure



To engage to enhance to ensure to advise to support to submit to report

To modify to monitor to renovate to recommend to make recommendations


Mayor and Councillors:                                                                                           

to make appropriate recommendations                                                                



To receive to respond to restore to remove to refuse

To revise to respect to retweet to revoke to review


Mayor and Councillors:

Information analysis procedure

Order to keep it in order



To maintain to promote to obtain to oppose to grant consent to refuse consent to withdraw

To audit to action to issue to commission to contribute to consider any impairments

To issue fire certificates to issue demolition notices

To license performances of hypnotism

To register premises for the preparation of fish

To grant consent for the operation of a loudspeaker

To obtain information in respect of contaminated land

To approve egg product establishments

To determine standards


Mayor and Councillors:                                                                                           

To determine appropriate standards                                                                    

Information analysis procedure

Order to keep things in order


3 Business


Doing democracy to the letter


Passing of papers

Stamping, signing, blowing

Passing of notes


Item 1: Change of use

H. Samuel to Ann Summers

Primark to Pasty Republic

Nat West to Toni and Guy

Steep Hill to ski slope


Item 2: Parking

Extension of Zone 1G

Misuse of permits

Misuse of scratch cards

Protocol for dealing with irate members of the public


Item 3: Bins

Large item collection


Item 4: Plastic

Single use

Multiple use


Item 5: Deputations

None requested


4 Esme’s Statement



To fall to fall in love to forget



To fall in love                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        


To recall to remind to redeem

To rethink to reveal to reform

To disrupt to protest to make trouble

To confront to expose to make noise

To speak truth to power to hold to account

To put the cat among the pigeons





To keep bees to swim in cold water to break the ice

To sleep in the open to listen to skylarks to watch the stars

To walk in the moonlight to walk in the mountains to walk through dark streets

To search for mushrooms to follow sheep tracks to be lost

To be lost in the woods to be lost in the desert to be lost in the city


To look into the heart



To look into the heart                                                                                              


The Councillors are transfixed. The Mayor is not happy.






To grow daffodils to dance the quickstep to play the drums

To paint to draw to sew to weld to blow glass

To skate to throw to run to jump to jive

To bend to flex to spin to twist to shake

To float to flip to fly to glide to dive

To leap without looking


Councillors:                                                                                                        leap without looking                                                                     



To make do to do without to forgo

To be silent to be incomplete to be alone

To be alone on the sofa to be alone on the ice cap

To be imperfect to be inconsistent to not know

To be in many places at once

To disappear



To disappear                                                                                                            


5 Esme versus the Mayor


The Mayor has had enough of this.




Information analysis procedure.

To keep things in order.



To maintain to uphold to ensure to improve

To adopt to enhance to restore to approve

To renovate



To fall in love

To disrupt to reform

To walk in the moonlight to walk in the mountains

To paint to draw to sew to weld to blow glass

To skate to throw to run to jump to jive

To leap without looking

To be inconsistent

To innovate



To renovate



To innovate


6 A kind of consensus


The Councillors have had enough of this.



To cultivate                                                                                                               

To love to make amends to restore faith to adopt children

To love to make amends to restore faith to adopt children to cultivate



To renovate to innovate to cultivate



To move to reform to shake to show to reveal to ache to love to respect to make to grow to cultivate


A child dressed as mayor exchanges places with the Mayor.


Child Mayor:

Order! Order! Order!


Bloom Brittania

Bloom Britannia

Libretto by Stephen Plaice

Directed by Polly Graham

Conducted by Chris Stark and Mark Austen

Performed by Chiara Vinci, Abigail Kelly, Laurence Panter, Alice Privett, Marcia Bellamy, Jenny Miller, Simone Ibbett-Brown, Bev Lee Harding, Gwion Thomas, Nicholas Morris, Patrick Kealey and a huge chorus

Produced by Barefoot Opera


A post-Brexit black comedy opera set in a seaside town, Melhaven.

And first performed in a seaside town, Hastings, not entirely dissimilar from Melhaven.


Stephen wrote:


For many families in the Fifties and Sixties, a fortnight at the seaside was the highlight of the annual calendar. Before the advent of cheap holidays in Portugal and Spain, the British coastal towns thrived. They represented a kind of utopia, especially for children. The esplanades and promenades, the floral clock and the amusement arcades, the green-painted Victorian shelters with their pewter roofs and diminutive spires, the music of a military band in the public gardens perhaps, or the tacky, balloon-twisting comedian on the open-air stage - these created a paradisiacal playground that the family looked forward to all year. Such memories still spook in the British psyche. This nostalgia is one of the reasons so many seek to retire to the coast, to recapture that now faded holiday atmosphere. But the Brexit-inspired attempt to retrieve these colourful panoramas is as precarious as the sandcastles we built before the incoming tide. As T.S. Eliot put it - you cannot follow an antique drum. The attempt to do so inevitably results in comedy and farce, as it does for the worthies of Melhaven in our opera, when they bid for the money that will reinstate their town as a venue for the Great British Holiday. The true nature of the seaside towns keeps poking through - the dodgy infrastructure and the underlying poverty, the secret economy and the 'under the counter' politics that actually allow the town to survive. Yet in this hopeless contradiction between surface and reality lies a quintessential Britishness, the ability to create humour out of failure, and to carry on until we can turn it all around. I hope it is this spirit that we have captured in Bloom Britannia.


I wrote:


The music of Bloom Britannia is, to say the least, eclectic.


The hen party that marauds through Melhaven brings pop music (and drinking songs). Pop music is usually considered too simplistic for inclusion in opera, but to make a piece about contemporary Britain with no pop music would be weird.


The busker brings the blues – not a British invention, but a form we have embraced, thanks to the Rolling Stones (and John Mayall and Peter Green and Christine Perfect and…..)


The street-sweeper Martina, who is from somewhere in the Balkans, introduces a folk song in a strange lopsided rhythm. (Lopsided rhythms are typical of Balkan music.) The first beat is longer than the second and third: dooo-doo-doo. It’s clearly a rhythm derived from dancing: the first beat is a long step, and the second and third are short. After Martina has introduced this song, lopsided rhythms begin to infect the music of the opera. The Balkans make their presence felt on the British seaside.


The relationship of Martina and Ellie asks the important question: is it ethical to appropriate the music of other cultures? My own answer to this, as you’ve probably guessed, is yes - if it is done with love and understanding and respect.


The heart of the opera, for me, is the song Jack in the Green. It starts as a conventional British finger-in-the-ear folk song, becomes infected with the psychedelic spirit of the Beatles’ Strawberry Fields, turns violent, dangerous, pagan, ecstatic, and ends in a strange rural euphoria. An investigation into the subconscious of a nation full of love and fear and fury.


And then there’s an a cappella patter song. (Ah, the joy of a cappella. Very uncommon in opera. Perhaps composers feel the singers need constant support, and certainly, a cappella is very exposing. But that is its beauty. The most direct musical communication possible.) The Victorians loved patter – high-speed rhythmic vocals. Now it’s in the hands of Dizzee Rascal, Twista, Eminem.


And then there’s a hint of salsa when Cassie is around, there’s cheesy close harmony from the Larks, there’s a sea shanty, there are glimpses of Britten and Britney, there’s a romantic lament by a queen, there’s a revisit of an iconic baroque song… and throughout the flower ladies sing excitable hymns and the children shout exuberantly…… A mad hotch-potch? Or an expression of a gloriously vibrant diverse British culture?

boom brittania
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