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

Arts and Entertainment
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
books
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
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.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'