THE horrors of the First World War will meet the tragedy of modern day conflicts in an opera starring more than 180 people from across the community.

Silver Birch, a people's opera, is Garsington Opera's new commission for the 2017 season and is a story of courage and aspiration.

Building on the Great War poetry of Siegfried Sassoon and the testimony of a British soldier who served in the Iraq War it will star local people aged from eight to 80.

Pupils from Wheatley Park School and Chalgrove Primary School are among those who will take part, along with military personnel, top professional singers and orchestra players.

Sassoon was a regular visitor to Garsington Manor in South Oxfordshire during the First World War and his great-nephew is taking part in the adult company of Silver Birch.

The opera examines the issue of relationships and family ties which are tested when two boys go off to fight in a present-day war.

Novelist and journalist Jessica Duchen has created a libretto which weaves together Sassoon's poems and the solider's Iraq testimony.

She said: "It is not only the fulfilment of a dream, this creative process, deeply collaborative at every level, has been entirely new to me.

"It's one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences I've been lucky enough to encounter.

"The theme is the impact of war on soldiers and their families, tying together Sassoon's First World War poetry and the experience of those serving in modern warfare.

"It is designed to appeal to opera regulars and first-time attenders alike.

"It is fast paced and action packed.

"Emotions run high and Roxanna Panufnik has written some incredibly beautiful music, as well as letting her hair down a bit in the battle scene."

Ms Panufnik is one of Britain's leading composers and the daughter of Polish composer Andrezej Panufnik.

More than 300 people auditioned to take part at workshops and residencies throughout Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

The final line up is made up of 60 adults – including 10 from the military community – 40 young people aged between 10 and 20 and a further 50 primary school pupils.

Silver Birch will be performed on the main stage of Garsington Opera at Wormsley on July 28, 29 and 30, starting at 7.30pm each night.

Tickets start from £5 and are available from or 01865 361636.