Of Gretchen and toads – the children's opera in Dortmund
Opera? Most adults do find that quite boring - so how is it supposed to be exciting for children? The children's opera in Dortmund, though, kills two birds with one stone: a young enthusiastic audience enjoys the performances, and the adults can overcome their prejudices by attending. The consistent implementation of the concept in Dortmund is unique in Northrhine-Westphalia and sets a precedent.
Suddenly, it is quiet in the room. It begins. Some minutes ago, you could hear a lot of third-graders fooling around, screaming and laughing - and now you could hear a pin drop. All children stare excitedly onto the screen behind them showing a man. But nothing happens. Heike Buderus enters the room and enlightens the curious faces: „On the screen, you can see Michael Hönes - he's the conductor“, she explains. „Because he can't see what happens on stage and the actors can't see him either, he's shown here. Do you have any other questions?“
„We want more! We want more!“
Heike Buderus is the theatre pedagogue at the children's opera in Dortmund - patiently, she answers all the inquiries of the interested and exhilarated little spectators dealing more or less with the play or the opera. But basically, all of them are waiting for the start, and when the curtain finally opens, it is totally quiet.
If you think nine year-old children are not able to sit glued to their seats for five minutes when attending an opera performance about 70 minutes long - think again. When smart Gretchen (right), the daughter of the poor fisherman, marries the king and finally becomes queen herself, you don't have to worry about the pupils' attention. Although their comments on the story are spontaneous and frank, they stay attentive from the beginning until the end, cheering "We want more! We want more!" after the final curtain.
That is no new experience for Buderus who has fought against some resentments the teachers previously had. The music was too overwhelming, they told her at the test performance for the educational staff. „But the children didn't even notice that. They considered story and music as an entity and embraced it.“
„This is a chance for many adults to tackle the task of opera - in a shorter version.“
In Dortmund, they tried to integrate mainly contemporary music and composers into the schedule, press officer Eckhard Martin explains, and Buderus adds: "It started with Peer Raaben, then we had Dutch composer Peter Schat, and now Czech composer Martin Smolka, both still living composers. The children should have the chance to deal with contemporary music. Teachers always argue that that's very difficult, but children don't have any difficulties with it.“ When musical director Michael Hönes shows them some extraordinary instruments after the performance, they join him curiously and with interest.
Since 2008, the building of the children's opera sits next to the theatre in Dortmund. As opposed to the children's and youth theatre, no tradition has built up so far, Buderus tells us. „Many people think of a short version of the "Magic Flute" or "Hänsel und Gretel" when hearing the term "children's opera". To sit through three hours of "Hänsel und Gretel" is tough for children, too.“
Thus, the concentration on contemporary pieces which take between an hour and 90 minutes. That's not only good for the children: „This is a chance for many adults to tackle the task of opera - in a shorter version.“
The toads have their own building
Although children's opera hasn't been invented in Dortmund, it is the only city in NRW with a proper building for it. So, the room is at the children's disposal, even apart from the performances, and they don't have any disadvantages in case the adults have to rehearse or perform. The apprentices of event technology help with the complete production, making for a small, proper, working team.
The Green Toads, the children's opera club, can also regularly rehearse here: on the premises, one amateur play project per season is rehearsed and put on stage - including director and professional eqipment. This year, it is "Something Else", based on the children's book by Kathryn Cave and Chris Riddell. Anybody can come and join, there is no casting - even though the children have seen the opposite on TV. But that doesn't curb their commitment at all - au contraire...
photos: Bettina Stöß
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