Fitzwilliam Museum

On Monday (29 October) the Fitzwilliam Museum will host an opera that will take the audience on a surprising tour of some of its greatest treasures. Lost was commissioned by the Festival of Ideas and written by Toby Young and Katy Austin.

It’s almost like a theme park ride with each part of the story offering a different surprise.

Toby Young, composer of Lost

Museums are big places full of mysterious things. The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge with its splendid classical facade is home to thousands of treasures from Chines ceramics and Egyptian mummies to paintings by Italian masters and French impressionists.  Now its impressive galleries are to be the setting for an accessible opera based on a visit that takes an unexpected turn of events.

When Luke and Elena take their small son Adam on a trip to the Fitzwilliam, he gets lost – not just in the wonder of the intriguing objects he encounters but so properly lost that his parents can’t find him anywhere. What happens next is a voyage of discovery and reunion, as Luke and Elena’s hidden histories are mirrored in the stories that lie behind some of the treasures on display.

To be performed for the first time on 29 October, Lost is an experimental promenade opera – a combination of words and music that takes the audience on an exploration that’s both touching and funny.  Written by composer Toby Young and librettist Katy Austin, it will take place for one evening only in the sumptuous galleries of the Fitzwilliam as part of the University of Cambridge’s Festival of Ideas.

While much contemporary opera has a reputation for esotericism, Lost is deliberately accessible, with Young describing his music as “a kind of classical jazz” and Austin summing up her libretto as “combining poetry with everyday speech albeit with more than a few puns”.

Lost takes the audience on a stroll through the museum in the company of a small band of singers who perform the dialogue to the accompaniment of music played by a series of chamber ensembles located in six of the galleries.  The show unfolds on a rolling basis with three groups of singers playing the main parts.

Young graduated from Cambridge earlier this year, and all the singers and instrumentalists taking part in Lost are Cambridge students.

Lost has a flowing narrative with stops and starts. It’s been great fun to devise and a real challenge to perform as it’s a matter of synchronising the words and music as the performers move around the museum. Getting the entrances and exits on cue will probably be the hardest part as having each scene in a different room presents huge logistical challenges. It’s almost like a theme park ride with each part of the story offering a different surprise,” says Young.

“When Katy and I were asked by the Festival of Ideas to come up with a promenade opera at the Fitzwilliam, we spent a day in the museum just looking at some of the amazing objects and the fascinating stories that lie just beneath the surface. Our narrative takes the audience into the world of Ancient Egypt and Rome, Renaissance painting and contemporary sculpture with everything in between – and makes vivid connections between the stories contained in historical objects and the unspoken histories in our own lives.”

Lost takes place as part of the University of Cambridge’s Festival of Ideas on the evening of Monday, 29 October. Suitable for ages 12 and over.

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