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Taking children to the opera? Listen without prejudice

Director John Fulljames on creating works specifically for young people.

By John Fulljames (Associate Director of Opera, The Royal Opera)

2 April 2013 at 5.12pm | 6 Comments

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.

By John Fulljames (Associate Director of Opera, The Royal Opera)

2 April 2013 at 5.12pm

This article has been categorised Learning, Opera and tagged Arts Education, by David Bruce, by John Fulljames, Charles Dickens Primary School, children, opera, Opera North, Production, The Firework-maker's Daughter, The Opera Group, youth

This article has 6 comments

  1. nina ross responded on 2 April 2013 at 8:32pm Reply

    My tickets for Firework Makers Daughter arrived today. Excited! Great article.

  2. Gill responded on 4 April 2013 at 7:55am Reply

    Lovely photos, but can the captions on 1, 3 and 6 be changed? (Hamlet would have sunk the pirate's boat). Can't wait to see the opera.

    • Ellen West (Head of Creative Studios and Digital Products) responded on 4 April 2013 at 2:04pm

      Thanks Gill, we're checking captions with The Opera Group.

  3. We were particularly pleased to see how much the young people in the audience enjoyed The Firework Maker's Daughter. The new work that John Fulljames is referring to in this article by Julian Philips and Ed Kemp is called How the Whale Became. It premieres in December and it is likely to be a great one for first-timers.

    Fiona Le Roy - ROH General Counsel

  4. Patricia responded on 23 October 2015 at 8:43am Reply

    Just wondering if you had an age guide of some sort for this and other opera? Something along the lines of U, PG, 12? Or factors to consider? Thank you.

    • Chris Shipman (Head of Brand Engagement and Social Media) responded on 23 October 2015 at 10:57am

      Hi Patricia,

      Unlike films, there isn't a an official age classification board for opera and ballets. However, where possible and appropriate, we do publicize guidance notifications - upcoming performances of Frankenstein, for example, are flagged as inappropriate for under 10s.


      ROH Content Producer

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