Local dementia carers will sing in opera based on Nottingham research

An opera featuring 10 local singers who have experience of dementia care will premiere at Lakeside Arts, Nottingham, this Saturday (2 April 2022).

Take Care is based on Professor Justine Schneider‘s research into dementia home care and follows the working life of Katie, a young carer for people living with dementia.

The 10 singers make up the Dementia Carer Chorus and will perform with award-winning soprano Donna Bateman, a Nottingham native, as well as Violetta Gawara, Jane Streeton and John Upperton.

The Dementia Carer Chorus are local people who either care for family members or are healthcare professionals with experience of dementia care:

  1. Angela Warren
  2. Becky Dowson
  3. Christine Rhodes
  4. Emma Poynton-Smith
  5. Jonathan Waite
  6. Lily Taylor-Ward
  7. Ruth Willott
  8. Sharon Bramwell
  9. Sylvia Berry
  10. Martin Orrell

Justine Schneider, Professor of Mental Health and Social Care at the University of Nottingham said: “The opera is based on our research into caring – a subject that has gained prominence through the pandemic. By studying dementia care we aim to understand what good care looks like.

Dementia is an incurable and progressive illness, affecting some 800,000 families in the UK. We are all likely to find ourselves in the role of dementia carer at some point. This beautiful opera, Take Care, enables us to reflect on the dynamics of care, and to appreciate the skill that it takes to look after a dependent person.

Professor Schneider added: “We are bringing Take Care to the stage for the first time at Lakeside. Our ambition is to make it possible for many more people to enjoy the opera. We will be evaluating the production for its ‘tourability’ and looking for opportunities to take it to other theatres, conferences and festivals.”

Extensive research led by Professor Justine Schneider in 2016 to 2018, through the BOUGH study (Broadening our Understanding of Good Home Care), funded by the National Institute for Health Research, provided significant insights into the lives of those who care for people with dementia in their homes.

While the failings of home care services have received national attention, this research set out to uncover the features of high-quality care for people with dementia at the interpersonal level. During the study that informed the opera, researchers followed home care in six households over 11 months. Care workers kept diaries on the job and relatives, care workers and their managers were interviewed.

These findings were the impetus for commissioning Douglas Finch to compose an opera that focuses on the role of the carer in the home from their professional and personal perspective. Under a confidentiality agreement, research notes were shared with Douglas and librettist, Cindy Oswin, who were given a free hand to interpret the findings.

Douglas Finch said: “It was inspiring to read the field notes of the carer-researchers. Our first aim for this opera was to elevate the ‘everyday’ work of the carer through the rich medium of opera. With its combination of singing, music and theatre, opera is able to convey complex messages about human experience and emotions.”

Professor Schneider’s research explored dementia care specifically, but in doing revealed more general truths about caring, empathy, love and loss. Cindy Oswin and I have tried to embed these aspects of human experience into Take Care. We hope that it will enable audience members to reflect on these themes in their own lives.

An opera in eight scenes, Take Care centres on the working life of Katie, a young carer for people living with dementia. The music captures the often-chaotic emotional turmoil of dementia as well as moments of humour, insight and love in Katie’s relationship with the people for whom she cares.

Take Care follows Katie through her daily visits to five clients:

  • Myrtle, well-off but lonely – troubled and confused by her relationship with her daughter.
  • Joyce, often irascible, who used to feel great love and tenderness towards her husband Harry, but now hardly recognises him.
  • Harry, proud of the work he used to do as a coal miner, now lamenting his growing physical frailty and his wife’s decline.
  • Eileen (represented by a puppet), in the late stages of dementia and at the end of life, but calm and content, spending much of her waking hours singing hymns.

University of Nottingham students will play in the orchestra, and Nottingham Trent University theatre design students have worked on costumes and set, with stage director Mervyn Millar and music director Jonathan Tilbrook.

Professor Schneider said: “It is inspiring to see such a large company of performers, creatives and technical experts working to bring a new opera to life locally. Lots of young people are working on Take Care: puppeteers, stage and costume design, surtitles, sound design, chorus, orchestra and stage management. For some it is the first opera they have helped to produce. This opportunity is all the more valuable because of the lack of placement practice for students over the past two years. I hope that Take Care will help to launch careers in the performing arts.”

/Public Release. This material from the originating organization/author(s) may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s).View in full here.