The birth of a new opera: Children know the score when it comes to songs

In his latest dispatch, Michael Volpe reveals how music is crucial to Alice

Is it all going too well? Unfettered progress always puts us on our guard and in a season that includes seven productions, when calamity chooses to stomp through a production, its reverberations extend well beyond the specific show it visits. If, as has happened, we lose a singer for a main stage production to illness, the process of correcting the problem affects everything. We only have so many pairs of hands so casting stutters, meetings get delayed and things look increasingly “tight”. But on the perverse theatrical road, we draw comfort from the bumps. Opera management is not a job upon which lives depend.

We don't charge into burning buildings, fix the tiny hearts of infants or fly 300 people safely through a storm. When my mother told me to get a proper job, I knew what she meant. But it is fair to say that your average heart surgeon needn't worry about critics and audience reaction (admittedly, a dead patient isn't a terrific outcome but you take my point). Art is never neutral, is it? Or at least it shouldn't be and the strength of feeling and the variety of opinion among audiences tells you that there are thousands of ways to mess something up. Even when you haven't. Alice, the family opera we commissioned for this summer, is coming to a critical phase and when tickets go on sale soon, there will be no turning back, save for a very public reversal.

Things are still being put right by composer Will Todd and while last month's recording session was a success, there were twists and turns as musicians pointed out difficulties in the score. I took the recording home to play to my four-year-old daughter, Fiora, who listened for a minute, proclaimed it “OK” and demanded to be allowed to continue watching The Incredibles without further interruption. A shiver of doubt passed through me but then I recalled that “OK” was all Tchaikovsky got after she had sat through Onegin in the summer.

We also played the recording to a room full of donors and told them that their generosity over many years had brought us to this point, had given us the confidence to take on the challenge and thus they needed to give us even more money now. They must all groan when they discover I will be at the same event as them, shaking my bucket, the operatic equivalent of a chugger on Kensington High Street. The song is now out on iTunes and within a day had leapt to No 6 in the classical charts.

Getting the music right is part one; part two is the less scientific production process, the hopefully gleaming bodywork that surrounds the meticulously crafted engine of the score. And let me tell you, there is no less an intensity of concern on account of our primary audience being children either, since they know a wrong 'un when they see it.

Director Martin Duncan holds the chalice in this regard, its toxicity as yet undetermined. He is losing sleep over it which, for comparison, he didn't suffer when he directed La Forza del Destino for us. “In my career, I have written, directed and performed for children and believe me, you can't get away with anything,” he says, not even trying to disguise the thousand-yard stare.

“If they find something funny, they'll laugh, if they are bored, they'll shuffle around, if they want a pee, they'll walk out. But if they are truly engaged, you can hear a pin drop. You always know exactly where you are with an audience of children.” Which is a good thing, right? Martin groans, takes a healthy glug of his Martini and says, “No. It's bloody terrifying.”

Michael Volpe is general manager of Opera Holland Park

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition