The Lion's Face

The Opera Group collaborates with the Institute of Psychiatry on ‘The Lion’s Face’, a new opera about dementia.

A new opera about the poignancy of old age premieres on Thursday 20 May at the 2010 Brighton Festival. Developed with support from the Wellcome Trust, 'The Lion's Face'will tour the UK this summer as part of The Identity Project, a nine-month season of activity from the Trust exploring the theme of identity.

Produced by the award-winning company The Opera Group, 'The Lion's Face'features music composed by Elena Langer and poetry from Glyn Maxwell.

The work has been developed in partnership with the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, where the company received inspired guidance, encouragement and advice from Professor of Old Age Psychiatry, Simon Lovestone and his team.

Professor Lovestone said: "Working with the arts is a great way to discuss the challenges of Alzheimer's disease and other illnesses. But what really captured my imagination in this case was the opportunity to work with some artists who were interested in a genuine dialogue - reflecting back to us as clinicians and scientists aspects of the disease we might not have thought about otherwise."

"I think this use of poetry and music will help us to look at Alzheimer's disease in a different way, and will energise me and my colleagues in our battle with this devastating disease."

The story begins with a seemingly trivial incident: an elderly man forgets his way home. The piece follows him as he retreats into an inner world where communication gradually diminishes.

Composer Elena Langer and poet Glyn Maxwell use music and poetry to explore the isolated shreds and shards of language that precariously connect the patient, Mr D, to the world he knew. The opera compassionately charts the reactions of those that surround him: wife, daughter, carer, doctor.

Glyn Maxwell comments: "For a poet, the subject of dementia offers unique challenges as well as potential pitfalls. But writing responsibly - in its literal sense of responsively - verse can deal sympathetically and enlighteningly with this widespread condition."

An initial 20-minute version of the piece won the Audience Prize at the 2008 Zurich Teatro Minimo competition.

'The Lion's Face' is part of a nine-month UK-wide season of activity about identity initiated by the Wellcome Trust. The Identity Project launched in November 2009 with ‘Identity: Eight rooms, nine lives’ - a major temporary exhibition at Wellcome Collection in London. Throughout 2010 the project is travelling across the country with exhibitions, events and experiments encouraging debate and discussion about how well we will ever be able to know ourselves.

The full-length version of 'The Lion's Face' has been made possible with a large Arts Award from the Wellcome Trust. Further funding from Arts Council England, the Peter Moores Foundation and the Linbury Trust facilitated realisation of the opera.

The Opera Group is also working with the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London and other partners, including the Alzheimer's Society, to create a series of talks, workshops and events connected to the performances of the opera around the country.

'The Lion's Face' world premiere
Theatre Royal, Brighton Festival
Thu 20 May, 20.00

Tour details

Theatre Royal Brighton
Thu 20 May, 20.00
Fri 21 May, 20.00

Oxford Playhouse
Sun 23 May, 19.30

Northern Stage, Newcastle
Tue 25 May, 20.00
Wed 26 May, 14.00 and 20.00

Watford Palace Theatre
Fri 28 May, 19.45
Sat 29 May, 19.45

Parabola Theatre, Cheltenham Ladies' College
Cheltenham Festival of Music
Fri 16 July, 18.00

Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House, London
Tue 20 July, 19.45
Wed 21 July, 19.45
Wed 28 July, 19.45
Thu 29 July, 19.45