Northern Heartlands People’s Opera: “Song of Our Heartland”, a collaboration with Opera North as part of the Great Place Scheme

Composer Will Todd, Director Caroline Clegg, Libretto Emma Jenkins.  Ideas and creative input from the communities of South West Durham and poet Tony Walsh.  Featuring the chorus and orchestra of Opera North and community participants.

“We’ve Only Gone and Done It” – a slightly paraphrased line from our community opera but one which sums up our achievement over the Summer of 2020!

‘Song of Our Heartland’ was intended to be performed in front of a live audience over two nights in May 2020.  Because of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, the project was transferred to a filmed, online version, with rehearsals taking place virtually throughout the summer.  The opera was filmed over two days in September 2020 at Locomotion, the railway museum in Shildon with a pre-recorded score.

See the one-hour film of the opera “Song of Our Heartland”.

“Every community opera is unique, but this one is exceptional”.  (Caroline Clegg, Director)

“’Song of Our Heartland’ is truly from the community: that, I believe, is what makes the end result so strong and authentic” (Will Todd, Composer)

“this is one of the largest community projects in which Opera North has ever been involved…a testament to the creative potential that can be released when a large-scale arts company…works together in a truly collaborative spirit with an entire community”.  (Richard Mantle, OBE, General Director, Opera North)

Comments from Community Participants:

“Throughout, the Northern Heartlands team has nurtured, encouraged and helped us to go way beyond our comfort zones and has kept us going”

“It has been such a brilliant project to have been part of”

“Thanks to the choir… had a positive in my life again”

In addition to the opera, the Heartlands Songbook features three of the short songs created in original workshops with our communities, when ideas were first explored for the creation of our opera.

Composer: Will Todd.

Music Production and composition: Will Todd

Arrangements by Andy Yeadon, Saul Rose and Brendan Murphy.

Directed and produced by Austen Atkinson (Lexicon)



  • "That's a wrap" - the community chorus and Opera North chorus and Caroline Clegg, the director after two days' filming at Locomotion

  • The Community Chorus taking direction in one of the final scenes in "Song of Our Heartland"

  • The Community Chorus at Locomotion pre-Lockdown (November 2019)

  • L to R: Emma Jenkins, Caroline Clegg, Will Todd

  • Will Todd putting the Community Chorus through its paces at a rehearsal at Greenfield Community School, Shildon

  • The first public performance of the Community Chorus at Locomotion, summer 2019

  • Opera Workshop in Wolsingham, February 2019

  • Tony Walsh in deep conversation with a young participant at our opera workshop in Crook, January 2019

  • Lots of fun at our opera workshop in Willington, January 2019

  • "Crook and Willington Girls" - we found the inspiration for the opera story at the opera workshop in Willington.

  • Caroline enthralled by the stories of another "Willington Girl" at our opera Workshop in Willington, January 2019

  • An opera workshop at Hamsterley, January 2019 - this is where we learnt about moonbows!

  • The first opera workshop in Barnard Castle - the start of something amazing!

Northern Heartlands Community Opera