Canal Opera


HD-Video, 20 mins 36 seconds

Canal Opera explores the post-industrial landscapes along Dortmund’s River Emscher and the restored Welsh Canal network. It contains 10 interwoven songs chosen and performed by amateur and professional singers who live close to the Llangollen and Montgomery Canals of Mid-Wales and the River Emscher in the Ruhr region in Germany. The songs contain common opera themes, such as loss, heartbreak, renewal, hope, imminent death and betrayal, and are performed and filmed in one take in obsolete locks, sewers, service tunnels, viaducts and within artworks commissioned to regenerate waterways in the Ruhr. The story is underwritten by a character Coutts met along the way, a contemporary druid with narcolepsy, who speaks and sings to remain in the present tense, making sound to stay awake. Coutts constructed the work over months of working on site at both locations, encouraging participants to ‘sing out and through’ their own complex connections to site memory and trauma.

Artworks by Douglas Gordon (‘Moment for a Forgotten Future’), Superflex and Henrik Hakansson (‘The Insect Societies’) amongst others are used as sets that impact on the voices of an amateur singer who runs between them. The industrial Limekilns in Wales become an underworld from where a professional bass-baritone stutters and repeats in his attempt to reach the end of an aria.

Canal Opera is an HD video and installation artwork, funded and mentored by Addo Creative, Arts Council Wales, Emscherkünst Germany and The Canal and Rivers Trust and was one of six research residencies culminating in the exhibition and publication ‘Navigations: Art as Research’ (Oriel Davies, Wales – May 2017).