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1936: Fishing - a Chamber Opera

Sunday September 4, 2022 at 19:00
The Cockpit Theatre, London
£15, £5 concessions
Phone for tickets: 020 7258 2925
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Tickets "at the door" - until sold out
  1. 1936: Fishing - Robert Ely, libretto by Peter Scott-Presland

The world premiere of a 45-minute chamber opera which is haunting, lyrical and melancholy. A kind of 'Death in Venice' turned on its head, seen from the point of view of Tadzio.

A shy and lonely boy; he has a secret. A lonely old man, once famous, once loved; he too has a secret. A protective mother with a suspicious mind, determined to get the truth.

An explosive mix that leads to betrayal and tragedy.

A play about legacy and heritage: what kind of shadow will your life cast?

“Brilliantly written marriage of words and music, a 45-minute jewel” – Time Out

This is Episode 7 of the epic cycle of vignettes about 20th century gay life, 'A Gay Century'.

As the world awaits the Olympic Games in Berlin, a shy teenager is befriended on Brighton Pier by an older man. The long shadow of Oscar Wilde falls over them both, resulting in an end which is both tragic and unforgettable.

The opera cycle is a way of exploring and bringing to life our rich gay history, and the many issues we have had to resolve, trials we have had to face, and ultimately the victories we have been able to enjoy. These stories are terse, but simple and memorable in structure and execution. Homo Promos has always had a mission to take theatre into the wider gay movement by telling engrossing and accessible tales. It will bring home our past to a younger generation to whom our battles are as remote as the Battle of Hastings, but in an especially memorable way, conveyed through music. It will also bring a higher LGBT profile to an area of art - opera - which remains stubbornly hetero-normative. Although the 'opera queen' is a stereotype, it is a white well-heeled, middle-class, older-aged stereotype, and real Queers are far more various than that; we want to introduce opera, and the idea of telling stories through music, to those younger people from different backgrounds to whom the idea of opera is intimidating, even anathema.


The composer Robert Ely's professional musical life started when he joined the Army as a bandsman playing clarinet and viola, and later flute. Fast-tracked to becoming a Bandmaster, he took second place in the Choral Prize and the Somerville Prize, and reached the heights of Senior Bandmaster of the Parachute Regiment. His distinguished career was derailed when the Army abruptly cashiered him for being gay, with the loss of his service medals and his service pension. The experience turned him into a life-long campaigner for LGBT service personnel, founding Rank Outsiders, the self-help group for people similarly abused.

He taught himself computerised music publishing when the industry was in its infancy, and went on to edit scores for many organisations, including the Royal Opera House. Developing his own composing career in tandem, he joined the London Gay Symphony Orchestra and in 1998 conducted the “anti-Requiem”, ‘Free’, involving the orchestra, six soloists and a choir, for which he wrote two movements and an epilogue. Simon Callow was the Narrator.

Robert is dauntingly prolific, with many orchestral and wind band compositions to his credit, as well as solo piano music, chamber works and songs. He came third in 2015 in the international symphonic wind band competition ‘Coup de Vents’ at Lille, with ‘Syrenes’, and was runner up the next year in Galicia with ‘Noite de San Xoan’. Most recently he has produced a CD of his piano music with Jack Campbell, and won the Orchestra Prize with ‘Bromleagh’, to be performed by the Bromley Symphony Orchestra. You can hear several of his works at Homo Promos - Robert Ely Biography.


The librettist, Peter Scott-Presland, has been writing since the early 1970s, when his Oxford revue ‘Here It Comes’ was nominated by Sunday Times Theatre Critic Harold Hobson for best musical of 1974. Cabaret writing and performance followed. He was Director of Birmingham Pub Theatre Company, performing new work by local writers in pubs round the West Midlands, including his own. Since then, he has founded in succession three gay theatre companies: One in Ten [1977]; Consenting Adults in Public [1980] and Homo Promos [1988].

He has always been interested in music theatre, providing the words for six musicals with music by David Harrod, of which ‘Yesterdaze’ [1977] won an Edinburgh Fringe First, Dorothy’s Travels [1992] in Toronto was nominated for a DORA, and ‘La Ronde’ [2011] was shortlisted for an OFFIE. He conceived ‘Free’ for World AIDS Day 1998: an ‘anti-Requiem’, based on the 14 Stations of the Cross but without God, about the last days of an AIDS sufferer. It utilised the talents of seven composers, including Robert Ely, and despite its subject contrived to be inspirational. Another of the composers was Peter Murphy, with whom he wrote the song cycle ‘Desire’ [2011], based on Edmund White’s ‘States of Desire’, of which Libby Purves in ‘The Times’ said, “A real treat. Ambitious, diverse and genuinely touching.”


Jack Campbell is a multidisciplinary musician with a passion for breaking down barriers. He is a pianist and composer with diverse interests. Supported by the Henry Wood Accommodation Trust, he graduates from the Royal College of Music in Summer 2022. He won the keyboard category and the Walter Todd bursary in the keyboard category of the BBC Young Musician of the Year 2016, and was a semi-finalist in the George Enescu Piano Competition 2021-2022.

A collaborative pianist, Jack has found great joy in working with RCM singers in several close duo partnerships. He regularly plays with his brother George in a piano duo.

As a composer his recent themes have included communication, trauma and loss. He integrates electronics, computer programming and web design into ethereal and dramatic soundscapes. Recent works include ‘our share of night to bear’ and ‘in silent dreams’. He is currently creating work about climate change with the ‘Music of the Earth’ project at Imperial College, London. ‘Regrowth’, his graduation recital in June 2022, fused piano music, expressive lighting and links he composed between pieces, into an experience of renewal and healing.

He will be appearing at the Karlskrona Piano Festival in Sweden in October, and in a piano duo recital with his brother George in Summer 2023.

Jack has previously collaborated with Robert and Peter on a recording of part of ‘1918: Front’, another Gay Century opera; and on a CD of Robert’s beguiling piano music.

The Cockpit Theatre
Gateforth Street

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