Opera in Care Homes
You may expect activities in a care home to be limited to engaging in cheap craft projects or enjoying a game of bingo on a Friday afternoon. You probably don’t expect to hear professional opera singers performing in the living room.
But that’s exactly what the charity Davina’s Fund has recently been providing for community day centres, dementia units, hospices and care homes in London and across the South West of England.
The charity, which was set up by Camilla Vickers to remember her mother Davina, has commissioned a special operatic play, Six Characters in Search of an Opera, which is currently touring venues where elderly people are residential or day visitors.
The play, written by Rachel Barnett and directed by Helen Eastman, is believed to be the first opera composed specifically for elderly people in care settings.
It is being performed by professional Italian opera singer Francesca Lanza and includes popular operatic favourites, including The Toreador Song and Rigoletto, as well as a host of other popular songs such as ‘And Her Mother Came Too’ by Ivor Novello.
The aim of the opera is to lift the spirits of both residents and staff in elderly care homes across the nation. Those witnessing the performances have noted how the elderly people – even those who are usually immune to any attempts to bring them out of themselves – are noticeably happier and more alert both during and after the activity.
Camilla Vickers dreamt up the idea after noticing for herself how her sick mother’s happiness levels were increased when she listened to live music. Following her return to England from Italy after her mother’s death from cancer two years ago, Camilla organised small concerts for her local community before fundraising for the touring opera with the help of the Centre for Innovation in Voluntary Action.
She is not the only one who believes such high-quality activities would be of huge benefit to the residents of care homes. A trustee of the National Activity Providers Association, Annie Stevenson, says the opera is a very good example of the type of activities residents and relatives should ideally expect from their care providers. She said other more mundane activities are often patronising to the elderly people, even if they are well intentioned.
Residents and staff at The Old Vicarage in Dorset, who were visited by the opera recently, agree with her. They noticed such a positive effect both during and after the performance that everyone’s spirits were given a boost.
The care home’s Jan Millward, who is responsible for organising the home’s activities, even went so far as to suggest that the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which regulates and inspects care homes in the UK, should take more interest in the quality of activities taking place.