Rebekah Okpoti writes for Northern Soul about her new work, Adelaide Watt: The Unwanted Burden, which premieres at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral later this month.

It’s the little-known story of the Bishop’s Throne at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral and brings slavers and slavery past, present and future into the public eye.

Funded by Arts Council England with significant support from Liverpool Anglican Cathedral and Liverpool Hope University, this creative project sees Adelaide Watt stitched through opera and organ, across time.

Born in 1857, Adelaide Watt was a descendant of a Lancastrian, Richard Watt (1724-1796) who reputedly started out as a hackney carriage driver before making his fortune in Jamaican sugar plantations as a slave broker. On his death, Richard was one of the richest men in the country. What is perhaps less well known is Adelaide’s generosity, including a donation of £2,000 for the building of Liverpool Cathedral.

In acknowledging the role her ancestor played in creating the wealth her family enjoyed, she had a memorial inscribed in his name. This inscription is located in clear view on the Bishop’s throne. As a mixed heritage, northern woman organist, I have been captivated by the throne. Also known as a Cathedra, it is one of the artefacts that differentiates a cathedral from a parish church.

While much is known about Adelaide’s public life, both in Liverpool and in Jamaica, there are few creative responses to Adelaide as a person. I believe that the beauty of a creative project is found in the opportunity to weave reality into a fictional story. Opera with Organ seemed like the perfect way to bring Adelaide, who died in 1921, into the public eye. 

The Girly Organist

I am known on social media as The Girly Organist, a platform where creative content is used to educate the public about the Pipe Organ world amid composition in frocks and flower crowns. My previous projects include those surrounding the pipe organ, Halifax’s Anne Lister, and Cumbria’s Brantwood House in Coniston (the home of John Ruskin). As an academic, organist and composer, my goal is to bring fresh eyes to historic figures by taking archival work and bringing it to life in a way that engages all ages.

The chamber opera Adelaide Watt: The Unwanted Burden will be presented as a flash mob at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral on January 20, 2024 under the skilful baton of Helen Thomas, a Liverpool-based conductor. There will be four soloists – Maggie Stanton, Steffi Philipos, Ben Tszack and Isabella Guthrie – supported by Liverpool Hope Chamber Choir. The music works in groups of three including three choir contributions and three soloist performances with organ interludes.

In 2023, I was the first woman in 100 years to play a recital on the organ at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, the largest pipe organ in the UK. It is thrilling to think that, by the end of this month, I will have performed my own work on this instrument. 

By Rebekah Okpoti


Adelaide Watt: The Unwanted Burden is at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral on January 20, 2024. For more information, click here.