One of Opera Australia’s gifts to opera education is its schools program. The Schools Company gives around 400 performances a year to tens of thousands of children and have been doing it for years. Many opera goers first came to this art-form via the program.
This year the show is By the Light of the Moon, a fanciful all-ages opera which explores the untold tales of Edward Lear’s beloved rhyme, The Owl and the Pussycat.
The program is billed as “Ridiculous whimsy meets sublime melody featuring the fantastic characters from nonsense poetry, nursery rhymes, as well as tunes from the best-loved operas.” Using The Owl and the Pussycat as the basis for their story Liesel and Michael Baddorek have turned it into a search for Love, aptly using the “beautiful pea-green boat” as their mode of transport. Agatha the cat meets Cedric the Owl and together they begin their adventure blending nursery rhyme characters with some of Opera’s favorite melodies and Arias. Along the way they meet the Three Blind Mice, Old King Cole, The Queen of Hearts, Contrary Mary and the Spider.
On the first day of the school holidays, this performance at Melbourne’s Recital Centre attracted a large audience of young people who recognised all the characters and responded appropriately.
The troupe comprises Kate Amos, Shakira Tsindos, Nathan Lay, Simon Meadows, Michael Lapina and Eleanor Blythman, assisted by pianists Pamela Christies and Jane Matheson. All are seasoned, professional musicians, and when performing in front of children you need to be on top of your game. Happily this group was up to the task and presented a delightful performance.
The program was not without its faults, however, through no fault of the performers. We are living in an era where too much reliance is placed on technology. All the performers wore head mikes, presumably to help with projection. Why this should be necessary in the most acoustically-perfect venue in Australia is beyond me. Opera singers are trained to project over live orchestras, so I can’t understand why microphones were necessary here.
To make matters worse the speaker system seemed to be having an off-day and much of the dialogue was indecipherable. It seemed to me that many of the children were having similar difficulty understanding the words.
Nonetheless it was a marvellous performance. Liesel and Michael Badorerek have fashioned a highly original storyline and managed to incorporate all our favorite opera tunes. La Donna é Mobile, from Rigoletto, becomes “Row, Row, Row your boat gently down the stream”, and when Agatha meets Contrary Mary, the resultant duet is sung to the tune of the Flower Duet from Lakme.
My 6-year-old co-reviewer thought it was cool, especially the three blind mice. Full marks to Opera Australia for encouraging the Schools Company and its educational focus. Long may it continue.