JAMES OLSEN

New children's opera: One of our Brothers is a Lion!




James Olsen was recently commissioned by Beckenham Junior Choir and Beckenham Youth Voices to compose a new children's opera. Titled One of our Brothers is a Lion!, the opera tells the story of Saint Jerome and the lion, as recounted in the Golden Legend by Jacobus de Voragine (c. 1260).

According to the Golden Legend, Saint Jerome removed a thorn from a lion’s paw—a subject familiar to art lovers from numerous paintings of this subject. What these paintings do not show is that, after the thorn is removed, the lion joins the monastery, and is even given a job by Saint Jerome. Man and beast live in harmony until, one day, the monastery’s donkey goes missing, and the brothers blame the lion...

James writes: ‘To compose, produce, fund and premiere a new opera in only six months is an extraordinary achievement! I could not have been more thrilled by the first performances of this new piece: the dedication, energy and enthusiasm of everyone involved, from the young performers to their families who contributed so much to the production and logistics, has been a marvel to behold. It was wonderful, too, to hear how many people enjoyed the performances, including many young people who had never seen an opera before. I heard of one four-year-old who had never been to a grown-up concert before, and who was apparently riveted throughout. This, for me, is why music is more than just sound: it’s about an event, about bringing a community together, about people doing things they never thought they could do, about opening up possibilities for young and old alike. That is why I am so proud of this project. I am immensely grateful to everyone involved, and particularly to Elizabeth Beroud, the chair of the choir, and to John Webber, its musical director, for their vision and dedication in seeing this project through to its completion.

‘Moreover, this project was funded entirely by private patrons. It could not have happened without their great generosity, and I know I speak for everyone involved in thanking them enormously.’

See for yourself how the project went in the video above!

You can read the explanatory document prepared at the beginning of the project here (PDF, 823KB).

You can also learn more about the project from the following videos: