The making of A Song for the Future

27 January 2021

Welsh National Opera has today launched A Song for the Future – a new film, developed since the UK went into lockdown in March 2020. Having previously created Hope Has Wings for WNO, Boff Whalley (composer), Sarah Woods (writer) and Lydia Meehan (producer) partnered again with the Oasis Centre for refugees and asylum seekers, this time working with six writers and musicians from different parts of the world to co-create a new opera – originally scheduled for live performance in autumn 2020 and then adapted to film as the pandemic progressed.

Sarah explains ‘A Song for the Future is inherently about the birth of a new world and the saving of our future. As our lives started to shift through the spring, this shaping of our collective future began to feel more fragile and more important than ever. The team met the complication of the pandemic head-on, to create something lasting, timely and relevant giving voice in these strange times to people who often go unheard.’

The group met fortnightly online, sharing their unique skills combining poetry, song writing, spoken word, singing, bass, guitar and keys, plus traditional Iranian instruments like the Tombak drum, setar, nay and tanbor. The musicians, who all worked professionally in their home countries, were excited to explore how their work could influence or be influenced by WNO, and to see the professional outcome. The participants, who came together specifically for this project, shared thoughts and feelings about the emerging pandemic and what the future might hold. The project became a lifeline, a place of connection in a disconnected world.

We talked about the small things – those small experiences in life that we didn’t value as much before


Participants shared music they had made and text they had written, building the new opera piece by piece – hand in hand with the year everyone was travelling. Isolation, separation, oppression, the Black Lives Matter movement, all formed and influenced the process.

Boff and Sarah then pulled everything together and formed a first draft which was presented to the group in September. A story emerged about Zana, a recently arrived refugee, who is trying to make sense of what she’s going through and of the world we have created.

When I sent all my thoughts and ideas to Sarah…and that moment when she can catch the idea of mine is really good, because I didn’t know that some people can catch the idea of something that you write


Lydia, the project producer, tells us ‘At this point it became clear that COVID-19 would impact the sector for many months and that delivering a live outcome in 2020 was impossible. But our participants had generously given us months of their time and creative ideas and it felt vital to honour the commitment we had made to them.

We decided to create a film of the opera, combining recordings of WNO musicians and singers, our participants, together with the skilled drawings and photography of two participants. A film that would be pioneering both in terms of what the arts can do at a time like this and how opera is delivered.

Like everything achieved in this period it has been complex, frustrating and challenging but with the support and determination of our participants, musicians, singers and WNO staff, we’ve done it.’

This project is real, because of the context and how we can work from our rooms and from something more personal. It doesn’t feel like work – it feels like something that I wanted to express and I’m proud of that