fsmily concert

WNO Family Concert

Birmingham Town Hall


Opera is not the easiest of art forms to introduce to youngsters, especially those who see the likes of Paw Patrol and The Clangers as the pinnacle of culture, but Welsh National Opera have given it a good try with their first family concert in Birmingham.

My grandson, three next month, managed the first half well, but his interest started to drift after the interval . . . until the theme from Jurassic Park when dinosaurs appeared on the large screen above the orchestra – what is it about toddlers and dinosaurs?

To be fair, he was at the lowest end, by some way, of the target age, and is at an age when he is too young to recognise music from the likes of Beauty and the Beast Evermore, sung beautifully by Fra Fee – of Hedwig’s Theme from Harry Potter.

He did like James Cleverton singing Largo al factotum as the barber from The Barber of Seville, partly as the excellent Cleverton was slapping shaving foam quite liberally over the presenter Wynne Evans.

Grandson number two, aged seven, recognised the film themes, which also included The Circle of Life, Fre Fee again, from The Lion King and The Jungle Book medley which featured choirs from Birmingham primary schools, Chandos, St Nicholas, Harborne, Somerville and Percy Shumer.

Presenter Evans, better known as the tenor in Go Compare ads, kept things moving along, involving the audience as much as he could, even bringing a group of children up to try their hand at conducting for The William Tell Overture – little lad Thomas even managed to wave the baton at something approaching the right tempo.

He also brought a dad up to ring the bell in Sousa’s The Liberty Bell march and chatted happily between numbers. It is perhaps a pity that he did not grace us with an aria as, away from selling insurance, he is a fine operatic tenor.

Samantha Hay was the third soloist, with another excellent performance, giving us both sides of The Magic Flute first as the evil Queen of the Night with Der Hölle Rache and then as lovebird Papagena with Cleverton’s Papageno with Papagena! Papagena!.

Fre Fee, incidentally, is a name to look out for, he has the looks and a wonderful voice that is made for the more dramatic roles in musical theatre.

Other music included Moross’s theme from The Big Country, Elephant from Saint-Saëns The Carnival of the Animals and Grieg’s In The Hall of The Mountain King.

It is easy to forget, particularly when they are usually hidden in the pit under the stage with only an ethereal glow marking their presence, that the likes of ballet and opera require not just trained and skilled performers, who get the bows and plaudits, but a symphony orchestra.

So, a family concert gives them a chance to actually play not only above ground, but in daylight, and show what a fine orchestra they are. Under conductor Timothy Burke they played opera, as you would expect, but also swing, film scores and brassy marches, with aplomb. Perhaps earning a little more respect, or at least recognition, from audience members who attend WNO operas.

This was not jut a concert though. WNO had activities running in the foyer for two hours beforehand with a simple treasure hunt with prizes, face painting, a chance to be made up as a character from opera complete with wig, craft stall to make whatever took your fancy and a chance to play an instrument – grandson two managed to get a few notes out of a trombone – not the easiest of instruments.

It was a beautifully presented programme to introduce children to opera, or perhaps more accurately to orchestral music with some opera thrown in. There is not much in mainstream opera for younger children – indeed English Touring Opera seem to be the only company producing genuine opera for youngsters with things like Laika the Spacedog or Shackleton’s Cat – so finding songs and arias that will hold their attention is a challenge.

Perhaps the video could be expanded with shots from the films if rights issues could be sorted, or live video of orchestra members or soloists. Children are used to seeing the world through screens these days so video is another window into the real wonder and unbeatable experience that is live theatre.

It’s nit picking really though. The family concert was an entertaining afternoon with even grandson one laughing and joining in with applause and delighting in the clap along encore of Offenbach’s Infernal Gallop from Orpheus in the Underworld  - that’s the Can-Can to you and me.

He is far too young to take to an opera, as indeed is his brother, four years or so his senior. But they have seen and heard a symphony orchestra and had a glimpse into the world of opera, and you never know, perhaps a seed has been sown.

Roger Clarke


Index page Town Hall Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre