Ruth’s Opera Blog for The Faustian Pack of three operas at Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
The Clore Studio Upstairs in Covent Garden, where the Youth Opera children are rehearsing The Crackle at half-term and on Saturdays, is a rehearsal studio-cum-third-performance-space for audiences of up to 200. A lovely, intimate laboratory space, lit by a roof-light. I think it feels, full of children’s alert and excited faces, like an open air courtyard.
This was built to supplement the bigger spaces at the Royal Opera House. So much about opera is contrast between the glittery front and the gritty hard work that goes into the illusion. But from the 1990’s on, Covent Garden has worked hard to create the best conditions in which all the hard work gets done and this little jewel is the result.
I’m sitting on a bench in it with a coffee, watching the Youth Opera musician-actors react to Faust’s evil machine.
Poor old Faust. This one is called George. Marlowe’s Faust is ambitious – he throws away all his knowledge because learning hasn’t won him the recognition he desires. But he was a good man once. “Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight,” say the chorus when the devil whisks Faust away to hell. “And burned is Apollo’s laurel bough,/That sometime grew within this learned man.”
Matthew Herbert’s Faust is a good man too. George is a passionate educator. He wants to inspire students as well as impress his line managers: that’s how Mephistopheles traps him.
I’m sitting beside Opera Learning Manager Fiona Lambert and she too is a passionate educator. She directs programmes of opera projects for everyone, kids to adults. Her brief, from The Royal Opera House, is opening opera up to new people in new ways.
There, I suddenly think, is a beautiful possibility for opera in The Archers. Because I keep coming back to the question a musician friend asked me the other day: why does no one in The Archers listen to classical music? Why don’t they ever mention opera – which is not the elitist bandwagon it once was? Opera today is a fun, passionately involving, often political mix of drama and music. And ever since Benjamin Britten began recreating English opera, children have loved performing in it.
Beside Fiona sits Rosina, Deputy Stage Manager for The Crackle, tearing the cellophane off 47 new plastic set squares and tape measures. Props for opera these days are a far cry from tiaras and scimitars.
“Where do you find the children?” I ask.
They look a lovely disparate lot: casual, alert and into everything.
“All over,” Fiona says. “Rather than tapping into a single well-behaved class like a choral school, a choir already singing beautifully, we look for talent in places where there’s no obvious recruitment path. They do three workshops – and then join the company. They rehearse on Saturdays.”
Lucky children, I think, watching them measure the devil’s machine, learning the real magic – of angels not devils – of rehearsal, stage discipline, the melding together of speech, drama and song.
Couldn’t just one Archers’ grandchild have the fun of performing in a community opera – say, in the Corn Exchange Borchester or – if the getting kids to rehearsals logistics are too difficult – how about Ambridge Village Hall? Or a barn on somebody’s farm?