Photo: Mehdi Panahi

A tree laden with achievement and pride

The Streetwise Linden Tree is not just a video – not really. Sure, it lives on YouTube and you can press play and watch moving images and listen to singing, but describing it as a video simply does not do it justice.

To Clarence Allen, our support worker in London, it is “a testament to Streetwise Opera’s innovative, creative and forward-thinking work”. It is also proof of the courage, determination and massive heart of Streetwise performers.

This project brings together the same raw passion and fierce need for self-expression, and for connecting with an audience, that we’ve seen in productions like The Passion (2016) or Tell Me The Truth About Love (2018).

As with most work at Streetwise, there is a twist. In this case, we take “The Linden Tree”, one of the most loved pieces in Franz Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise (Winter Journey), and explore what would happen if there was a community ready to embrace and heal the story’s heartbroken wanderer.

And again, as with all things Streetwise, the real magic is in the interaction between people who’ve been affected by homelessness and world-class artists, to create a piece of art that is powerful, authentic and unique.

For this project, we were joined by an amazing group of professional artists: baritone Roderick Williams, pianist Christopher Glynn, the Brodsky Quartet and singers from Genesis Sixteen, all under the artistic direction of Freya Wynn-Jones.

They not only brought talent and experience to our “digital stage”, but they understood, from the very first moment, how important and life-changing this project could be for Streetwise participants.

Produced during lockdown, this performance combines audio and video recordings captured by all participants on their own phones. That was a singular challenge in itself – even for some of the professionals.

Streetwise performers spent six weeks learning Iain Farrington’s brilliant arrangement of “The Linden Tree” through online workshops led by David Pisaro and Emily Smith from Middlesbrough.

With their unique mix of humour, warmth and creativity, David and Emily guided them in exploring every music note, syllable and nuance of the song – translated into English by Jeremy Sams.

But on top of that, Streetwise performers had to undergo a crash course in sound recording and filmmaking, so they could capture their own singing.

We created video tutorials and online guides, and we ran group and one-on-one sessions on Zoom to get everyone comfortable with the tools they would use. Our support workers truly went above and beyond to provide assistance to make this project happen.

For example, the wonderful, deep voice of Stephen Vallely, a participant in our singing and creative workshops at Middlesbrough Town Hall, was captured by our Teesside support worker, Amanda Fearnehough, at Albert Park. “It was very special because I’ve always had a spiritual and emotional connection with that space, and it’s my favourite place to meditate,” said Stephen.

Caroline Middleton, who before lockdown was taking part in our workshops at Emmanuel House, a support centre for people who are homeless in Nottingham, recorded her part inside a car with Isabella Harris, our support worker for the region: “(Fellow performers) Simon and Gary and I took turns doing our recordings, and it was absolutely amazing. The end result was brilliant!”

Anita Ferguson, a participant in our workshops at Manchester Art Gallery, was guided step by step on how to do her recording over a Zoom call: “The tech aspects of the project terrified me and I almost conceded defeat, but with support from Streetwise, I challenged myself – and I did it! The Linden Tree film is simply beautiful and I’m so thrilled to see myself singing alongside such tremendous musicians. I feel I’ve achieved something very special and am so proud!”

Our director Freya was very keen on participants filming themselves as close as possible to nature (anything from a pot plant at home to a garden, a park or nearby woods).

David Paterson, a performer from the Streetwise workshops at Sage Gateshead, particularly loved filming outside: “It was a pleasant experience being back out amongst nature, after being in lockdown so long. The sounds, sights and smells were amazing. They brought the song to life and gave it a deeper meaning, inviting me to appreciate what’s around us more”.

But whether indoors or outdoors, on their own or with support from someone else, in the end this project was about allowing Streetwise performers to share their voices and hearts with the world, whilst re-claiming their rights as creative individuals.

Mehdi Panahi, who joined our online sessions two months ago from London, explains why this is important:

“My life strangely went upside down and suddenly I lost everything. People saw me on the streets, on buses, at train stations… several times I got beaten up because people thought I was different, even though I never did anything bad to anybody. Every time I felt so hurt. They didn’t really know the whole story about me and my life. Streetwise Opera is really helping me to leave a lot of sadness behind. The only thing I want now is to touch people’s spirits with music. When Streetwise accepted me, I thought this was my last chance to live again. I love singing and Streetwise Opera gave me wings and made me fly.”

“The Linden Tree” was premiered in the Ryedale Festival online and will go live on Streetwise Opera’s YouTube channel at 7:00pm on Wednesday 29 July.

Click here to support Streetwise Opera’s work with people affected by homelessness.


Streetwise Opera, Roderick Williams (baritone), Christopher Glynn (piano), Brodsky Quartet and Genesis Sixteen

Streetwise Opera Performers: Anita Ferguson, Bridgette Foley, Caroline Middleton, Charlene Gibson, Chris Pemberton, Dave Paterson, Denise Allison, Gary Douglas, Jacqueline Webb, Jamie Sample, Julia Kwan, Karen Jones, Kevin Delaney, Kim Rodway, Martin Rivers, Mehdi Panahi, Simon Kemp, Stephen Vallely

Additional Streetwise voices: David Pisaro, Emily Smith, Gavin Bailey, Robert Gildon, Amanda Fearnehough

Genesis Sixteen singers: Hannah Cox and Margaret Lingas (sopranos), Felicity Turner and Jess Haig (altos), Ben Vonberg-Clark and Chris Huggon (tenors), Ben Tomlin and Robert Clark (basses)

Brodsky Quartet: Gina McCormack (violin I), Ian Belton (violin II) Paul Cassidy (viola) Jacqueline Thomas (cello)

Franz Schubert, composer
Wilhelm Müller, original poem
Jeremy Sams, English translation
Iain Farrington, arrangement

Freya Wynn-Jones, director
Rey Trombetta, visual direction and production
George Collins, audio editing support
Andrew Mellor, audio mixing support

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Picture of Rey Trombetta

Rey Trombetta

Head of Marketing and Communications, Streetwise Opera