A little over a two weeks ago marked the end of Opéra de Baugé, an annual opera festival in the Loire Valley of France. Over a period of three weeks (an incredibly intense period rehearsing and performing in 38°C plus heat!) a group of professional singers, dancers, instrumentalists, conductors and technical crew put together and performed three different operas, aptly aided by a band of volunteers. Locals could come and watch the performances, enjoying a picnic in the beautiful grounds of Les Capucins, the Chateau where the opera is held. Heaven, right?
While all of this was going on a group of children, French and English combined, aged from around 7 to 11 were working on a performance of their own. These wonderful kids managed to rehearse and perform, from memory no less, children’s choruses from operas such as Carmen, La Bohème, Werther, Cavelleria Rusticana, Albert Herring and Hënsel und Gretel (just to name a few), in Italian, French, English and German, aided occasionally by some of the professional singers (including yours truly). This wonderful concert was rounded off by four of the boys singing “Ombra mai fu” from Handel’s Serse, in a beautiful finish to the performance.
Some of these kids in particular are little stars in the making, giving brilliant and even hilarious performances, but perhaps more heart-warming was seeing some of them with their parents attending the opera productions. They came to see all three: Idomeneo, Orfée aux enfers and Rigoletto, and let’s face it if you were thinking about child-friendly opera, Rigoletto certainly wouldn’t be at the top of the list. Yet there they were, sporting matching grins and clutching their programmes as they then approached the artists for their autographs. The level of joy and excitement was absolutely genuine and for a genre I’ve often heard described as elitist by the adult world, and boring by the adolescent world.
It makes me recall the wonderful film Hip Hop to Opera made by Opera Holland Park, released earlier this year. The moment that springs to mind is when this group of inner-city teens see and hear bass Simon Shibambu sing the coat aria from Puccini’s La Boheme. The sheer astonishment on their faces is something to behold and they describe is as “sublime” and say they’re “flabbergasted”. Opera might not be “pop music” any more, but it still has the power to thrill, and it can still find relevancy for upcoming generations. Not every child is going to love opera, but there are plenty who do and there is a whole spate of operas now written specifically for younger ages, or aimed at families including Jonathan Dove’s Swanhunter, Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things are based on the popular book, The Firework-Maker’s Daughter by David Bruce inspired by the Philip Pullman novel and the ever popular Noye’s Fludde by Benjamin Britten to name just a few. So much can be gained from either seeing or partaking in these operas and from the performing arts in general and I say the more the merrier!
If you haven’t had a chance to watch Hip Hop to Opera you can watch it here.