There’s a new opera in town – and it includes plate smashing, megaphones and cucumber sandwiches

Gerald Barry’s unlikely opera interpretation of Oscar Wilde’s classic The Importance of Being Earnest might be one of the best operas of recent times. But more importantly it surely breaks a record for toasted tea cake consumption.

The importance of Being Earnest asset

Barry’s opera was first performed back in 2011 and it has proved a pretty much instant hit. (The current run at the Barbican is sold out – but you can watch a live stream of the performance on 2nd April.)

One of the (many) reasons it’s been such a hit is Barry’s use of… unorthodox instruments. Here are some of the best.

Wind machines

Also known as a friction idiophone. Anyway, it creates a sound of wind. But that's not what Barry uses it for, that would be far too obvious. He just uses it like any other instrument – for the noise it makes.

Importance of Being Earnest.  

Plate smashing

That’s right. At particularly high points of tension, a member of the percussion section dons a pair of protective goggles and has the best time:


These aren’t even really instruments, are they Barry? But that doesn’t stop him…

The importance of Being Earnest


Contrabassoon (honorary mention)

This is an instrument, but it has a prominent role in the opera and when is that ever a sentence you can say about the contrabassoon. Let's all take a moment to appreciate the contrabassoon.


Hob nailed boots

For angry stomping bits.


A sledge-hammer

Like this:

mahler hammer gifs

But with less Mahler.

And a whole LOAD of tea and cakes

The importance of Being Earnest

You can watch the whole opera, absolutely free, on Saturday 2nd April via the Royal Opera House's YouTube channel. Find out more here.

Pictures: ROH/Stephen Cummiskey