Taking children to the opera? Listen without prejudice
Director John Fulljames on creating works specifically for young people.
James Laing as Hamlet and Andrew Slater as Rambashi in The Firework-Maker’s Daughter © Robert Workman
As I prepare for the London opening night of David Bruce’s The Firework-Maker’s Daughter, I’ve been thinking about how we introduce young people to opera.
Opera is a diverse art form but historically there hasn’t been a strong strand of repertoire aimed specifically at engaging young audiences. Of course, there are those who cry that opera is an acquired taste and fundamentally an art form for the mature. However, there is a risk that this translates all too easily into a philosophy that the delight of the first-timer and the child is somehow less important than the response of the initiated.
Young people are now rightly seen as equally valid makers and consumers of culture of all kinds. Last month we invited a focus group of young people from Charles Dickens Primary School in Stockwell into our rehearsal room. It was so helpful to have them there, giving us feedback on how the story was told and what they liked and disliked in the production and performances. This is an audience that is able to open its ears and listen without prejudice – an audience that happily listens to all genres without understanding that we impose arcane rules and boundaries between them. It’s an audience that we ignore at our peril, as their literacy is key to the future of our art form.
The literature and film worlds are far more developed in this area than the music and theatre worlds and of course much of the best work for young audiences engages all ages – like Shrek, Harry Potter or Hansel and Gretel. The Firework-Maker’s Daughter is the first of many operas for young audiences at the Royal Opera House. Julian Philips and Ed Kemp are writing a new work that will have its premiere in December 2013. Their production will be directed by the brilliant Natalie Abrahami, former Artistic Director of the Gate Theatre, and designed by Tom Scutt (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Constellations). Looking further ahead, Mark-Anthony Turnage and Unsuk Chin are both working on new operas, which we hope will delight young audiences.
Read more about new work planned for The Royal Opera.
John Fulljames’s new production of The Firework-Maker’s Daughter is in the Linbury Studio Theatre 3 – 13 April 2013. It is a co-production with The Opera Group and Opera North, and is generously supported by Mrs Lily Safra and the Paul Hamlyn Education Fund.