A lot of people shy away from opera. It has connotations of being really long and inaccessible. It is certainly not the first thing you think of when planning a family friendly activity. But did you know some composers have actually written operas especially for children?
Benjamin Britten, for example, wrote a children’s opera. One of England’s most famous composers, living 1913-1976, he helped shape the music of the 20th century. You might know him for composing “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” (that in itself being an educational, family friendly piece.) But he also composed a children’s opera called “Noye’s Fludde” (or Noah’s Flood). As can be presumed, the opera tells the story of Noah and the ark from the Old Testament, a story that many children will already know. Having a plot that children know from the start really helps to get them to understand the story they are telling. When they really know the story they are setting out to tell, they become more involved and excited about telling it. There are about half a dozen adult roles with the children filling the parts of the animals and offspring of Noah. Naturally, dressing up as different animals has an appeal to a cast of children!
The music was composed specifically so that children could be the central figure, making up the bulk of the cast. The melodies are simpler than that of a complicated Wagner opera and the children have to make sound affects as well as singing. Not only are the children in the cast but they make up the orchestra too. Britten composed the music so there were parts for all standards, going so far as adding violin 3 (to the standard orchestral set-up of 2 violin parts) so that as many children as possible can get involved.
The charm of this opera is that children can be excited about performing something that was written specifically with them in mind, rather than adapting a play or musical written for adults. They can also work alongside adults that are specialised in their field, whether it be the adult leads in the opera or the leaders of the orchestra, and can be inspired and driven by these professionals.
The opera is being performed at Blackheath Halls on Thursday 7th April and Friday 7th April so go and watch it if you can. This is truly an opera for all ages!