My name is Rhys, a first time dad blogging about my adventures and experiences of being a parent. [email protected]

Swansea City Opera creates new opera Shoulder to Shoulder

Swansea City Opera's partnership with Men's Shed Cymru creates new opera Shoulder to Shoulder

A powerful new chamber opera from Swansea City Opera – Shoulder to Shoulder – exploring the male experience of loneliness tours Wales this November.  

Loneliness is an epidemic and affects men disproportionately. The experience of loneliness is explored in Swansea City Opera’s (SCO) new chamber opera Shoulder to Shoulder, created in partnership with the charity Men’s Sheds Cymru, part of the international Men’s Shed movement, which originated in Australia.

Busy young mum Gwen is at her wits end with her dad, Rhys, who’s hitting the whisky, having lost his wife and son.

Bereaved and lonely, Rhys reluctantly joins his local Men’s Shed group.

Experienced Shedders Dai, Ioan and Charlie, with their own difficult stories, show Rhys the ropes…woodworking, garden gnomes, and where the tea bags live.

Shoulder to Shoulder is a moving and uplifting – often laugh-out-loud funny – exploration of men overcoming loneliness and social isolation through the friendships forged in their local Shed.

Shoulder to Shoulder’s ensemble features Welsh singers and musicians who have worked with the major opera houses, opera companies and orchestras, including the Royal Opera House, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Welsh National Opera, English National Opera, Opera North, Scottish Opera, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Soprano Jessica Robinson, who plays Gwen, was a 2023 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World finalist.

Between 11 – 25 November, Shoulder to Shoulder will tour to Brecon (11 November, Theatr Brycheiniog); Neyland, Pembrokeshire (15 November, Bethesda Baptist Church); Rhyl (17 November, Rhyl Little Theatre); Pontypridd (18 November, YMa); Cardiff (21 November, Tramshed); Abertillery (Thursday 23 November, Llanhilleth Institute); and Lisvane (Saturday 25 November, Memorial Hall).  

Librettist Brendan Wheatley rooted Shoulder to Shoulder in the life stories of members – Shedders – of Men’s Shed Cymru. Brendan visited Sheds – drinking many cups of tea – and heard stories ranging from the tragic to the hilarious. Brendan crafted the story and libretto, and Lenny Sayers, composer and Principal Bass clarinettist with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, whose music has been broadcast on BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio Wales, and BBC Radio Cymru, composed a brilliant score which has a very broad appeal.

Brendan Wheatley says:  

“We first toured Shoulder to Shoulder in winter 2022, performing in a mix of professional venues and community spaces where Shed groups meet. The opera was a big hit, reaching people completely new to opera and opera fans. Shoulder To Shoulder resonates with audiences, as, although the story is specific to one family and one group of men, the stories are universal: grief, trauma, ill-health, the decline of heavy industry and the ensuing loss of jobs.”

“And people use humour as a coping mechanism, and when you get a group of men together, there’s, inevitably, plenty of good-natured banter. Many of the stories I heard from Shedders were absolutely hilarious. We’ve woven that humour throughout the opera.”