Panufnik’s Silver Birch at Garsington Opera

Suzi was vocal director for this People’s Opera in which over 180 people from the ages of 8-80 from the local community joined the Silver Birch Company alongside professional artists. The opera was performed on Garsington Opera’s main stage as part of the 2017 Season. The Community Company included child soloists, primary age children from seven local schools, a youth company of singers and dancers (age 10-20), an adult company, student instrumentalists, a team of Foley artists (acoustic sound effects), and representatives from the armed forces community, all working alongside the creative team.  As vocal director, Suzi was responsible for teaching the music to the many non-professionals in the cast.

Silver Birch is an original story about courage and aspiration, centring on themes and issues of relationships and family ties which are tested when two boys go off to fight in a present-day war, while drawing upon Siegfried Sassoon’s poetry for echoes of the past. Sassoon was a regular visitor to Garsington Manor in Oxfordshire during the First World War.

BBC Arts Digital followed the process of making Silver Birch and have produced three documentary films, looking at different aspects of the project. In addition, Person 181 – an immersive 360-degree film – gives audiences the experience of being on stage standing among the cast of 180 performers during a performance of Silver Birch, as well as unique behind the scenes access in the build-up to the actual performance.  The film ‘The Story of Silver Birch – A People’s Opera’ follows the creative team in the build up to the performances. You can watch it below:

You can click here to watch the other films.

Composer: Roxana Panufnik; Librettist: Jessica Duchen; Director: Karen Gillingham; Designer: Rhiannon Newman Brown; choreographer: Natasha Khamjani; Conductor: Douglas Boyd


“It’s the terrific panache of Karen Gillingham’s staging that really socks you between the eyes and ears. It was all superbly played by the Garsington Opera Orchestra, augmented by student instrumentalists and expertly conducted by Douglas Boyd.”
Richard Morrison, The Times, 31 July 2017

“…this was a real achievement.”
Richard Fairman, Financial Times, 1 August 2017

“A remarkable event with a vast community cast. There is a real sense of vision in this coming together, as clear in the unstoppable energy of the performers as it is in the excellence of the stagecraft displayed in Karen Gillingham’s complex production.”
George Hall, The Stage, 31 July 2017

“A work that is having an impact on performers and audiences alike, and which stands as one of the very best examples of this type of opera.”
Sam Smith, Music OMH, 31 July 2017

‘Here were primary school children, teenagers, professional singers, members of a women’s refuge, ex-military personnel… even Sassoon’s own great-nephew lent voice to a chorus of roof-raising passion and purpose.’
Helen Wallace, Arts Desk, 31 July 2017

“This was undoubtedly the most uplifting and moving evening I’ve spent in the theatre this year. It deserves many more outings – soon.”
Susan Elkin, Sardines Magazine, 31 July 2017