‘Break down the uncool tag’: ‘Whistle-stop’ series bringing opera to Manchester kids

Opera North’s ’whistle-stop’ series has been praised for breaking down the ‘uncool’ tag that classical music retains with young people by a local teacher.

The Elixir of Love by Gaetano Donizetti was condensed into a comic, 30 minute performance and taken on the road to schools and community groups in Leeds, Newcastle, Nottingham and Salford by the group.

The newly adapted English language take on the Italian classic offers a funny, light-hearted introduction to opera for young audiences and people who would not normally experience the art form.

Music teacher Hannah Ogden, from Moorside High School, told MM that she jumped at the chance to get her GCSE level students involved.

“What Opera North have achieved makes opera more accessible and attempts to break down the ‘uncool’ tag it has been branded with,” she said.

“Classical is still seen to be uncool, with both boys and girls, but with events such as this by Opera North and the BBC 10 Pieces project, a lot of effort is being made to break down this barrier and get more young people interested in classical music.

“[The students] are desperate to see musicians perform live and this was an opportunity that was too good to miss.

“They really enjoy music and want to know more about it.”

MM took in the 30 minute adaptation at Ordsall Hall, a Grade I listed Tudor heritage site. 

Despite the three singers appearing in modern dress, the Italian atmosphere was instantly created by the beautiful accordion accompaniment of Miloš Milivojević and the lively and engaging narration of John Savournin, who also adapted the work for this production. 

Fourth walls were broken, the audience participated with gusto and every preconception one could possibly have had about opera well and truly shattered. 

The story felt fun and fresh, helped greatly by the clarity of the singers’ diction and our proximity to every nuance of facial expression.

Enthusiastic Hannah said that she hoped the impressive production will have a lasting impression on her young charges.

“As a singer myself, I always hope to get kids enthused about singing and this was a good opportunity to see professional musicians in a slightly more relaxed setting,” she said.

“I am constantly looking for ways to change the approach to singing.

“Our school recently had a ‘Year 7’s Got Talent’ competition which saw all of the forms competing, showcasing their vocal talents. 

“This is something I hope to expand on in future and aim to create a good choir at school.”

However, the opinion of Opera North’s target audience is what matters most, and all of the students spoken to by MM gave positive feedback.

“The performance completely removed the stereotype of opera being dull,” said 14-year-old Jamie, which would surely be music to the ears of those committed to ensuring that more youngsters share that same view. 

Image courtesy of Tom Arber, via Opera North, with thanks

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