Unique PhD collaboration between poet and former Oxonian Anna Appleby (composer) to create full-length opera

A creative academic collaboration between a poet and composer will culminate in the production of a brand-new opera.

A PhD student each from Manchester Metropolitan University and the RNCM, an early career poet and composer respectively, will combine to create the new work, supervised and mentored by an internationally-renowned librettist and composer who already collaborate on operatic works.

The new contemporary opera will receive support and mentoring plus a broadcast concert performance from the BBC Philharmonic.

The three-year project, part of the North West Consortium Doctoral Training Partnership, has been funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council Collaborative Doctorate Award, and offers a combination of cross-disciplinary supervision and collaboration between two higher education institutions and a leading orchestra and broadcaster.

It meets a growing artistic need for newly commissioned operas – there is no set theme or style for the two students’ production – particularly in producing text-led contemporary orchestral and operatic music.

The successful PhD candidates are poet Niall Campbell, who will be supervised by Michael Symmons Roberts, accomplished librettist and Professor of Poetry at Manchester Metropolitan, and composer Anna Appleby, whose supervisor is Emily Howard, Professor of Composition at the RNCM. Michael and Emily recently combined to produce The Anvil for Manchester International Festival, a new choral composition marking the bicentenary of the Peterloo Massacre.

Niall’s first poetry collection, Moontide was the inaugural winner of the £20,000 Edwin Morgan Poetry Prize in 2014, and received the Saltire First Book of the Year. Noctuary his second UK collection, was published in April and has been shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Collection.

He said: ‘I’m delighted at the opportunity to test myself creatively. Opera has a fine tradition of poets bringing something different to the libretto, and I hope I can do this tradition justice. The collaboration with someone as talented as Anna, with the oversight and guidance of the institutions involved, all combine to make for a project I can’t wait to get started.’

Anna has written for world-leading orchestras, including the Royal Northern Sinfonia, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the orchestra of Dutch National Ballet, and has had her music showcased internationally and on BBC Radio 3. She is a composer-in-residence at Glyndebourne, has a first-class degree in music from Oxford (2014) and a masters degree in composition from RNCM (2016), where she was a finalist in the Gold Medal Competition and won the Rosamond Prize for her collaboration with poet Merrie Williams.

She said: ‘I can’t wait to start working with Niall, and we have the beautiful end goal of creating an opera for the BBC Philharmonic and RNCM singers to perform here in Manchester. It is an invaluable chance for me to develop as a composer through intensive research and collaboration, so this couldn’t come at a better time.’

Over the course of their PhDs, which officially begin in September, Campbell and Appleby will develop methods and skills in making texts for music, explore and learn from existing repertoire and develop new music and text settings, initially on the scale of songs. These smaller ‘sketch’ experiments will develop, as the PhDs progress, into a focus on the major ‘work’ – a new opera or oratorio.