It’s a World Cup opera … starring 100 fans who already know the score

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Tom Jenkins/the Observer</span>
Photograph: Tom Jenkins/the Observer

In 1990, Nessun Dorma, the aria from Puccini’s Turandot, sung by the Luciano Pavarotti, became the soundtrack to the World Cup in a marriage of high culture and the beautiful game.

That union is to be revived for the 2022 World Cup with a new opera celebrating the world’s most popular sport and featuring a chorus of football fans who will undergo a crash course in operatic techniques.

Gods of the Game: A Football Opera will be staged at Grange Park Opera in Surrey in October, and broadcast soon afterwards on Sky Arts.

Directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah, the artistic director of the Young Vic, it tells the story of two childhood friends who become football stars. In the course of leading their country’s bid to host a World Cup tournament, they encounter bribery and corruption.

The pair enlist the support of the “gods of the game” to ensure that righteousness prevails.

Kwame Kwei-Armah, artistic director of the Young Vic, is directing Gods of the Game: A Football Opera at Grange Park Opera in Surrey.
Kwame Kwei-Armah, artistic director of the Young Vic, is directing Gods of the Game: A Football Opera at Grange Park Opera in Surrey. Photograph: Alicia Canter/the Observer

Phil Porter, the work’s librettist, said: “The opera imagines a world in which the world’s greatest ever footballers – from Pelé and Maradona through to Messi and Ronaldo – exist as gods, watching over the global game.

“The characters and events of the story are otherwise fictional, but very much inspired by the drama of international football. Famous on-field shenanigans like Maradona’s ‘hand of God’, Zidane’s extra-time head-butt, and Luis Suárez’s fondness for biting opposing players were rich sources of inspiration. And though our characters are invented, we have inevitably drawn from the many great characters that have played football at the top level – hardmen like Roy Keane and Stefan Effenberg, flawed geniuses from George Best to Maradona, modern icons like Megan Rapinoe and the famously self-assured Zlatan Ibrahimović.”

More than 100 football fans will be recruited for the “footy fan chorus”. After intensive training, they will be filmed performing a specially composed chorus at a UK stadium. The footage will be projected as part of the opera.

Wasfi Kani, the chief executive of Grange Park Opera, said: “There are various footballing fraternities for whom singing is an essential part of their fandom. We’re switched into those, and we’ll find a particular bunch and then expand.”

Kani said she was not a football fan and had “no interest in any sport at all”. But with her second company, Pimlico Opera, she had worked with prisoners on productions of operas and musicals inside jails but open to the public. “Training nonprofessionals is quite doable, human beings are very creative creatures,” she said.

Opera. Football. A marriage made in heaven. Both full of passion, dramas and charismatic stars

Kwame Kwei-Armah

Matching a game of football, the opera will last for 90 minutes. It will be sung in English and include snatches of famous arias amid original music by a team of five composers.

Kwei-Armah said he was incredibly excited about the project. “Opera. Football. A marriage made in heaven. Both full of passion, drama and charismatic stars.”

The 2022 World Cup is due to take place in Qatar from 21 November to 18 December. The tournament has been dogged by controversies, including allegations of secret payments to secure support for Qatar’s bid and human rights abuses suffered by the migrant workforce hired to build stadiums and infrastructure.

About 1.5 million tourists are expected to visit the Gulf state during the month-long tournament, although only 130,000 rooms are available in hotels, on cruise ships and at desert “glamp” sites.

Opera has increasingly tackled contemporary issues, including Between Worlds, about the events of 9/11, and CO2, about the climate crisis.