The research of a Liverpool Hope University academic has inspired a new chamber opera examining the links between women and slavery throughout history.
Adelaide Watt: The Unwanted Burden is a creative historical fiction intervention into the contested history of Liverpool Cathedral which was composed by Dr Rebekah Okpoti, Lecturer in Music and Creative Arts.
The three-part performance addresses slavery in the past, present and future. It reimagines the life of Adelaide Watt, the last surviving member of a famous family of Liverpool slave traders and also addresses modern-day slavery by telling the story of a young Nigerian girl who was trafficked to England.
Dr Okpoti was inspired to compose the opera after learning that Liverpool Cathedral’s Bishop’s Throne remained a contested artefact due to the fact it was paid for by Adelaide and is engraved with the name of her uncle, Richard Watt, who was one of England’s wealthiest slave traders.
Liverpool Hope’s Summer Research Scholarship, allowed Dr Okpoti to work with undergraduate student, Helen Lunn, to further research how and why Adelaide had funded the Bishop’s Throne by examining the correspondence held in the Cathedral’s archives.
She later earned funding from Arts Council England, with significant support from the University and Liverpool Cathedral, to compose and perform the chamber opera.
Director of Music at Lancaster Priory, Dr Okpoti’s research interests focus on organ music and the discovery of untold stories.
She is the only woman to play Liverpool Cathedral’s organ in the last 100 years and will do so for a second time for this new chamber opera, when she will perform alongside four Liverpool Hope students: Maggie Stanton, Isabella Guthrie, Ben Tkaczuk and Steffi Philipose.
Commenting on the chamber opera, Dr Okpoti said: “There is a lot known about the early male descendants of the Watt family, who were one of the wealthiest slave traders in England and who owned Speke Hall.
“However, not a great deal was known about Adelaide and I found it interesting that the Bishop’s Throne – which makes a cathedral a cathedral – is not used because it was funded by the slave trade.
“I decided to write a chamber opera because it gives you space to put a creative take on the story and detaches from the controversy of the Bishop’s Throne being a contested artefact.
“The tagline is ‘the unwanted burden’ because slavery is a burden on humanity and it is not something we can get away from.”
Adelaide Watt: The Unwanted Burden will be performed at Liverpool Cathedral on Saturday 20 January at 11am and 4pm and is free for members of the public to attend.