Arts / Turning opera into kids’ stuff

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Chorus master Alex Pringle with students from the Dandenong Children's Chorus. Photo by Albert Comper.
Chorus master Alex Pringle with students from the Dandenong Children’s Chorus. Photo by Albert Comper.
OPERA Australia will go to any lengths in the quest for new audiences. Proof? The company’s upcoming production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”.

Trimmed to size and cleverly re-orchestrated by Andrew Greene, it’s been translated by director Michael Gow from a mythical masonic world into ancient and modern Egypt.

Posters abound showing performer Sam Roberts-Smith looking suspiciously like Indiana Jones and OA has invested in 1000 red feathers to give the young choristers who will join the production as it travels around regional Australia.

No wonder Alex Pringle, the children’s chorus master, says kids around the country have judged this “family-friendly” production to be “cool”.

And they should know. In all but one venue the chorus is played by local children, chosen by the different theatre centres. Here we’ll have the venerable Woden Valley Youth Choir, directed by Alpha Gregory.

Although originally from Albury, Pringle travelled to Canberra during year 12 to study violin, later spending two years at the School of Music.

An avid chorister, he “sort of fell into conducting” when a friend at Fort Street High talked him into it. Now he conducts a 90-strong choir as well as nine other ensembles, while occasionally playing in the orchestra of OA.

He has never done anything like his present job before.

“This is a complete new pilot program,” he says. Sure, Melbourne Opera has been using local children’s choruses for some years, but this is a first for Opera Australia.

Late last year Pringle got a call from the head of OA’s touring company (it used to be called OzOpera) Sandra Willis, a woman of “passionate intensity”, asking: “Can we do this?… if it’s possible, can you do it?” The rest is history.

Pringle tells “CityNews” he usually doesn’t stay on to see the show, but turns up about three days before the show, does two three-hour rehearsals with the kids, makes up a stage layout using chairs and music stands as a makeshift set, then they’re ready.

“Michael Gow does it so that they feel like they are a genuine part of the show,” Pringle says.

They appear early in the opera and get to dress up as Egyptian spirit children and appear several times in each act, finally becoming bird children.

“Mozart is a perfect starting point for children, absolutely, and this is the perfect opera for them to do,” he says.

The plot has been cut down so there are two 55-minute halves and that makes it more accessible to the children, he says. Best of all, it’s in English.

“With only six hours rehearsing, what would it have been like to rehearse in German? Really tough,” he says.

“The Magic Flute”. Canberra Theatre, September 4-6. Bookings to 6275 2700 or canberratheatrecentre.com.au

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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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