Preview: Gentle Giant, Hextable Dance, Swanley

The big idea: opera for children
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The Independent Culture

Here's one for the fledgling opera buff. The composer Stephen McNeff and the playwright Mike Kenny have written an opera for children aged seven-plus, based on the book by the former Children's Laureate Michael Morpurgo.

The opera, which is premiering at the Royal Opera House in London before going on tour as part of ROH's "On the Road" programme, tells the story of Miranda, whose village has fallen on hard times and whose inhabitants believe that buying stardust is the answer to all their problems. Miranda, meanwhile, becomes friends with an outcast giant whom the villagers fear, and blame for their troubles.

McNeff, who is "composer in the house" to the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, has written numerous scores for children. His first major operatic work for children was an adaptation of Philip Pullman's novel Clockwork, produced by the Unicorn Theatre with the Philharmonia Orchestra in 2004, which toured and played at the Royal Opera House's Linbury Studio Theatre. "It was packed - not a seat in sight," says the composer, "which proves there is a demand for opera for children."

He continues: "Composers wrote their operas to be understood by the audiences. Without getting into the big issue of whether opera should be done in its original language, I have discovered that children love opera providing they can understand the words and follow the story."

He has certainly worked with enough children's audiences to know the signs of boredom. "When you see a restless children's audience it is because they are turning to each other to ask: 'What is going on?' When you involve them in the story, this doesn't happen. I think adults should understand the words in opera as well. The composer needs to be a dramatist as much as he is a musician."

25 February (01322 618618; www.hextabledance.com), then touring to Mumford Theatre, Cambridge and Ariel Centre, Totnes

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