Photograph by Ian Smith

Opera Will Translate Experiences of Dementia into Powerful Performance

A new research-led opera exploring the nuances and experiences of living with dementia will be staged in English and Welsh in north Wales.

The one-act operatic exploration aimed at fostering empathy and reducing stigma around dementia is led by University of Exeter’s research programme Improving the Experience of Dementia and Enhancing Active Life (IDEAL), and is the university’s first ever Arts Council of Wales funded project.

The opera, entitled ‘Y Bont/The Bridge’, seeks to harness the fusion of instrumental music and the human voice in creating a sensory piece that portrays what dementia sounds and feels like to the audience. This act builds on IDEAL’s previous success with arts-based work including the recent play, then documentary film, ‘The World Turned Upside Down’.

Professor Linda Clare, Chief Investigator of the IDEAL programme, said: “Using performance is a powerful way to bring our research findings to life and convey aspects of what it can be like to live with dementia, or support someone with dementia. We learn a great deal, too, when audience members share their insightful reflections on what they have seen and heard.

“It’s a huge privilege to have a talented group of artists engaging with our work and translating it to enhance public awareness about dementia.”

The opera’s cast and crew spoke with IDEAL’s project involvement group, Action on Living Well: Asking You (ALWAYs), which is made up of people who live with dementia and carers, who provided insights into their unique experiences of living with dementia and its effect on families. This, coupled with the creative team’s local discussions, has resulted in the creation of an opera that communicates lived experiences.

The librettist and director of the opera, Marian Bryfdir said:
“Singing and music, especially in the form of an opera, can often express an extraordinary range and depth of emotion. Dementia, by its nature, hinders the expression and communication of innermost anger, grief or even joy and happiness.

“That was my starting point for Y Bont/The Bridge – to illustrate the frustration experienced by many living with dementia due to a lack of sensitivity, experience and knowledge from those around them.”

Echoing the director’s desire to change attitudes through the opera, mezzo-soprano Deborah Lea said: “We want to create an impactful and sympathetic production which will highlight awareness of dementia and promote understanding of not just the disease, but how we treat those who are affected by it.”

As a part of the Arts Council of Wales’s ‘Create’ grant, the IDEAL team is running free community workshops and an innovative photography project as part of their ongoing research into living with dementia. A workshop, entitled ‘How can we improve living with dementia?’, will be held at each venue on the day of the opera performance.

Ian Smith, a photographer who has worked extensively with people living with dementia and their carers from Dementia Actif Gwynedd, will be documenting the creation of Y Bont/The Bridge and curating a photographic exhibition which showcases relationships and images captured by members of the Caernarfon group. These will be on display at the Ucheldre centre from 28th February to 31st March.

Dafydd Rhys, Chief Executive, Arts Council of Wales said:

“We are proud to be able to support this operatic project and the community work taking place in Anglesey and Gwynedd. The arts play a major role in reducing social isolation for those living with dementia and providing them and their carers with enriching cultural activities. We can also learn from projects like these on how to make spaces and activities more accessible and dementia-friendly. It is a fantastic example of how groups and organisations can work together to highlight the positive benefits the arts can have on health and wellbeing.”

Y Bont/The Bridge will be performed in English at the Ucheldre Centre, Holyhead on 31st March and in Welsh at Pontio Arts and Innovation Centre, Bangor on 1st April. The score has been created by acclaimed composer Dr Edward Wright, whose previous commissions include Botany a choral work for Llandudno Arts Festival, Space to Think for Electroacoustic-Wales, and Polarities for symphony orchestra and electronics.

The English language show on 31st March opens at 7:30pm and the Welsh language performance on 1st April starts at 7pm. Tickets for the English show can be purchased from Ucheldre Centre’s website, and for the Welsh language premiere on Pontio’s website.














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