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Project information

The Elephant Keepers – a new opera for children

Ever been swept away by a fantastic story? We’re creating a children's opera based on the inspirational true story of a community saving a baby elephant from the dangers of the Blitz. With your support and our help, 480 pupils will help compose, produce and perform shows in their local communities.

March 2011 - November 2012

Charity information: Scottish Opera

Scottish Opera logo
  • Need


    Being involved in a top-quality, professional arts project can turn an ordinary day at school into an unforgettable one: encouraging creativity, increasing confidence, and stimulating lifelong enthusiasm, often in those you would least expect. However, these experiences can be few and far between - kids are seldom given the chance to work with arts professionals and projects offered by arts organisations often come at a cost that is too high for families to afford.


    We will commission The Elephant Keepers – an evocative and exciting children’s opera based on the story of a female zookeeper who walked a baby elephant home with her each night to protect it during WWII. We’ll take our experts into 8 schools to help pupils produce and perform the show. Each performance will include a 5-minute section that the kids themselves have composed. All activity will be free, and with its universal appeal, the project has real longevity – it could be performed anywhere!

  • Aims

    Aim 1

    To reinforce Scottish Opera’s commitment to producing new work for new audiences


    » We will commission a high calibre creative team - author Bernard MacLaverty and composer Gareth Williams - to deliver a new opera for children
    » We will engage 480 primary school children across Scotland in the process of creating the opera and bringing it to the stage
    » We will prioritise the creation of new repertoire as part of Scottish Opera's 50th anniversary celebrations in 2012

    What success will look like

    Success will see the project extended beyond its initial life span through future co-productions with the education departments of other UK opera companies.

    Aim 2

    To provide high quality music making opportunities for primary school children


    » We will provide creative music making workshops for 240 children from eight Scottish primary schools
    » We will give all these children the opportunity to contribute to the creative development of a new opera
    » Composer Gareth Williams, 9 musicians and 2 animateurs will deliver creative workshops, rehearsals and performances with the participating children

    What success will look like

    Success will be measured by each school designing their own five-minute composition, supported by the composer.

    Aim 3

    To introduce opera to children (and their families) as an accessible and enjoyable art form


    » We will provide performance opportunities for 240 children. For most, it will be their first experience of opera
    » A further 240 children will help to produce the show – we will support them in delivering press, marketing and front of house responsibilities
    » Through this project, we will use themes both engaging and universal: a war-torn society protects an elephant, a symbol of peace and friendship

    What success will look like

    Success will be measured by monitoring the children’s perceptions of opera before the project starts against feedback and reactions at the end of the project.

    Aim 4

    To support teachers in delivering the Scottish Government’s Curriculum for Excellence


    » We will design a comprehensive music teaching pack to complement the project for follow up use in the classroom
    » We will design cross - curriculum activities for teachers in the areas of Literacy, Personal & Social development, Music, Theatre, Art & Design

    What success will look like

    Success will be measured using feedback from teachers and children on cross-curricular work: creative writing; designing posters; and cooking with rations.

    Aim 5

    To develop ongoing relationships with a wide geographical reach of communities across Scotland


    » We will reach out to the public through performances of The Elephant Keepers in community spaces such as halls and schools
    » We will stay in touch with these communities, offer them tickets to Scottish Opera productions and continue to have a local presence

    What success will look like

    Success will be demonstrated by attracting audiences of over 80% capacity for each of the public performances of The Elephant Keepers

  • Impact


    The Elephant Keepers will enter Scottish Opera’s canon of work.

    We aim to extend the life span of the project with further performances in Scotland and further afield, as well as setting up co-production agreements with other UK opera companies.

    Success will be demonstrated by creating more performance opportunities for a greater number of participating schools. We hope to have a positive long-term influence within primary schools, inspiring hundreds of children through music making.


    There is a risk of participating schools not fully committing the necessary resources and time to the project. We will safeguard against this by working alongside schools to understand the commitment needed and what this means in terms of man hours, physical resources and time out from the core curriculum.


    Mid &post-project reports will include feedback from schools and children, press coverage and budget analysis.
    Extracts of the opera will be uploaded to our website.
    We'll invite all donors to attend work in progress sessions and public performances.
    We'll recognise donors in the music score

  • Budget

    Budget - Project Cost: £66,605

    Loading graph....
      Amount Heading Description
      £16,000 Commission Creating the score and libretto for The Elephant Keepers
      £11,500 Costumes and props Designing and making costumes and props for the performances
      £4,500 Teaching & marketing resources Creating teaching resources for schools and marketing materials for the performances
      £10,000 Creative workshops Holding schools workshops, with composer, visual artist and animateurs
      £5,645 Rehearsals Rehearsals with schools, Scottish Opera musicians and animateurs
      £18,960 Performances Staging community performances with technical support

    Current Funding / Pledges

    Source Amount
    Barcapel Foundation £10,440 Guaranteed
    Scottish Opera £41,165 Guaranteed
  • Background


    We anticipate that the 8 participating schools will come from across the length and breadth of Scotland. We will prioritise rural schools that sit at the heart of their small communities. We hope that schools from the Islands will take part.

    We will also prioritise schools with an additional support unit.

    Our extensive schools activity supports the Scottish Government’s ambition to bring Scotland together as a nation through equality of opportunity and access to cultural activity.


    This project will benefit 480 children from 8 primary schools across Scotland: 240 children in primary 6, aged 10 will take part in music making workshops with composer Gareth Williams; a further 240 children will help to produce the show – delivering press, marketing and front of house responsibilities

    Revivals will ensure many thousands more children will see this new piece in years to come, in addition to those who will help to create and perform these future airings.

  • Why Us?

    Why Us?

    As Scotland’s national opera company, Scottish Opera has been presenting operas in schools for 40 years, and has the expertise to tailor-make education projects to engage and inspire children of all ages.

    These projects are consistently in high demand from schools across Scotland. Each opera designed for primary schools helps teachers to deliver aspects of the Scottish Government’s A Curriculum for Excellence for P5 to P7 pupils.

    Read more about the Charity running this project.


    Jane Davidson

    As Scottish Opera Director of Outreach and Education, Jane will be responsible for coordinating this project.

    Bernard MacLaverty

    Bernard is an acclaimed writer of novels, short stories and screenplays and will write the libretto for this project.

    Gareth Williams

    Gareth has produced a number of notable compositions for organisations across the UK, and is a composer of special interest to Scottish Opera.

    Creative Team

    Gareth Williams and Bernard McLaverty first collaborated on The King’s Conjecture for Scottish Opera’s Five:15 - Operas Made in Scotland in 2008.

Sheila the elephant

Sheila the elephant