Former Sixth Form student brings a coffee-buzzed opera back to his hometown

20 October 2017

A former Shrewsbury Sixth Form student is bringing an opera he has written and composed to The Wightman Theatre for one night only.

James Oldham, left Shrewsbury Sixth Form College in 2008 after studying Music, Graphics and Maths at A Level. With encouragement and inspiration from his Music teachers, he went on to the renowned Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and gained a First Class honours degree in composition whilst also receiving the Conservatoire’s Competition Prize and Orchestral Prize.

After excelling in composition and seeing a bright future within the field, James returned to Royal Birmingham Conservatoire to complete a Masters Degree and proceeded to establish and run his own company in London, The Waste Paper Opera Company. He now writes and stages shows in London and across the UK.

The Coffee Opera is based around J. S. Bach's 'Coffee Cantata', a comic opera about coffee addiction that was written between 1732 and 1735. James’ version is about a young lady called Lizzie who has become obsessed with the very trendy artisan coffee scene, filled with laptops and lattes. Her father, who runs a large coffee chain business, is having trouble identifying with her. The audience can enjoy coffee and cake in the café atmosphere as the opera takes place around them.

James was commissioned to write 'The Coffee Opera' by Music of the Spheres, a Baroque Consort based in Glasgow. Directed by John Butt, it was premiered in 2015 at The Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow and was also performed at The Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh. This performance at the Wightman Theatre in Shrewsbury on 22 October will be the first in England.

James said: “I realised while studying with David Place and Chris Lewis at Shrewsbury Sixth Form College, that I wanted a career in music. David was particularly supportive of my interest in composition and provided the first platform to have my work performed at St. Chads while I was still a student.

“David's guidance knowledge and support gave me the confidence to apply to Birmingham Conservatoire. The Coffee Opera is a comedy, highly accessible and experimental all in equal measure. I composed a score that intertwines my own music and that of the cantata; so the line between the new score and Bach is very fine. I am excited to bring it to my home town.”

Shrewsbury Sixth Form Music Teacher, Chris Lewis, said: “I can remember the day at college when James announced that he wanted to write an opera.  His determination and vision have paid off and it’s great to see him realising his ambitions.

“Studying A Level Music helps you develop your own voice as a composer, at the same time as developing an understanding of how the great composers and songwriters of the past made their own music so successful.  We’re lucky at college to have such a diverse range of student composers who inspire each other to create music for a wide variety of different genres.”

Tickets for the show are available online at

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Tags: Music Mathematics Graphic Communication