CulturAll caught up with Rey Trombetta, head of Marketing and Communications at Streetwise Opera, to discuss the impact of the arts on well-being and social inclusion

Arts organisations have had a tough time during the pandemic: how has Streetwise Opera coped with the restrictions and changes to usual life?

In the year before the pandemic, from April 2019 to March 2020, we delivered 371 singing and creative workshops in arts venues and homeless centres to 727 people in London, Manchester, Middlesbrough, Newcastle and Nottingham. We also staged 30 performances that were attended by 6,855 audience members. 

At the end of March, when the lockdown was announced, it took us less than a week to move our sessions online. We began with live-streamed sing-along sessions on Facebook and YouTube, and then we started to explore how we could use Zoom for singing and other creative tasks. We now offer five sessions per week.

The technology has not allowed us to do proper group singing, but it has enabled us to deliver some very interesting digital projects like a recording of Schubert’s The Linden Tree, with baritone Roderick Williams, the Brodsky Quartet and Genesis Sixteen, and the co-creation of a digital mini-opera (The Deer: A Story in 8 Chapters) directed by Emma Bernard and with the participation of eight UK-based composers.

Participants in our workshops, most of whom are recovering from homelessness, tell us that our online sessions have been a lifeline for them. And even though we are all looking forward to the moment we can come together in person to sing, we feel very proud of what we’ve achieved during lockdown.

Streetwise Opera – Schubert’s The Linden Tree

What’s your favourite Streetwise Opera performance?

The Resurrection Chorus, the finale of our 2016 opera The Passion. It was composed by Sir James MacMillan with lyrics by Streetwise Opera participants. It is a celebration of the courage of those that come together after a tragedy to rebuild a community. We partnered with UK classical choir The Sixteen for this production, and it was broadcast by the BBC. For us, this production is a great way to change audiences’ perceptions of who people recovering from homelessness are and what they can achieve.

Streetwise Opera – Resurrection Chorus from The Passion

What are the best ways for people to support Streetwise Opera’s mission in 2021?

They can find out more about our work via our website, follow us at @StreetwiseOpera on social media or, if possible, they can make a donation to support our work. Our activities, in person or online, help us inspire and empower people recovering from homelessness, reminding them that they are creative individuals that have something beautiful to give to the world and deserving praise and applause. Our research over the last 17 years shows that this leads to improved wellbeing and social inclusion, which plays an important role in helping them overcome homelessness.