Bard of Barnsley Ian McMillan gives opera a Yorkshire dialect makeover for new Bradford festival

An opera festival is coming to Bradford – and features an Ian McMillan dialect twist to an Italian classic.

The Bard of Barnsley has been tasked with Yorkshire-ising words to The Barber of Seville and says the only struggle has been counting his syllables to fit.

"I've always thought opera is the top form for these turbulent times," said the celebrated poet, playwright and broadcaster.

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"It wears its heart on its sleeve – it's full of excitement, and passion and love and disappointment. It really does feel very accessible.

MIND ME LUGHOLE: A short, back and sides for Ian McMillan from baritone Oscar Castellino. Image:Karol WyszynskiMIND ME LUGHOLE: A short, back and sides for Ian McMillan from baritone Oscar Castellino. Image:Karol Wyszynski
MIND ME LUGHOLE: A short, back and sides for Ian McMillan from baritone Oscar Castellino. Image:Karol Wyszynski

"And I have always been interested in the idea of opera and dialect.

"It is quite difficult to do a flat vowel, when you are used to operatic notes. But could they have a go?"

The first Bradford Opera Festival launches on November 23 with a performance of Ian McMillan's new adaptation at St George's Hall, the first time Rossini's opera has been performed in Yorkshire dialect.

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The concert features Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra and Bradford Festival Choral Society.

For festival organisers this is about making opera in Bradford – for Bradford folk – and in Bradford's very own way.

After all, they insist, opera might be "better with a bit more Bradford" in it. Directed by Alex Chisholm and conducted by Ben Crick, the pair said it had been six years in the making.

Working with Ian McMillan and Russel Sarre to bring Ice Cream: The Opera to Bradford in 2017, the idea had been sown to start a homegrown festival.

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Besides McMillan’s classic remake and new work by the city's artists, the festival is also on a mission to train the talent of the future with workshops and little operas. There will also be two 15-minute pop-up operas, Perfume and The Last Gift, to be performed in shopping centres and community centres as part of Bradford's Music Month.

Mr McMillan said The Barber of Seville was an opera "just made for the poetic tones of the sublime Tyke talk".

"It's really exciting," he said.

"The great thing about opera is people say they can't understand the words. Now, if you're from Cambridge, you won't understand the words either."

The festival is funded by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, as well as Bradford Council.

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And when it comes to Bradford's upcoming City of Culture, Mr McMillan said this was a brilliant chance to shine a light on the district's creative talent and opportunity.

"It's a funny word is opera, it can put people off," he added.

"But you go to any pit community and find there's choirs and brass bands and people who sing. People who are proud amateur music makers.

"The word 'poetry' puts people off, the word 'art' – but we like looking at pictures. Maybe the idea that it's in Yorkshire dialect might get them thinking.

"City of Culture is just the start of something," he added. "We might have everybody in Bradford writing their own opera – now wouldn't that be a thing."

Read Ian McMillan’s column in The Magazine.