Access to classical music and opera can be challenging for some, whether it’s an emotional, medical, or geographical barrier. Welsh National Opera want as many people as possible to experience and embrace the power of opera. Recognising that children and young people who have multiple learning difficulties (PMLD) have limited access to cultural events, we set out to develop a concert with their needs in mind. Three months later, Opera Tutti was born.
Opera Tutti is an intimate and interactive concert which allows participants to not only listen to the music, but to engage with the emotion, narrative and the spectacle that is unique to opera.
The concert was devised with 35 young people from Mayfield Special School in Birmingham over the period of two terms. All the young people were wheelchair users, non-verbal and many had additional physical, sensory, and learning impairments along with complex health needs.
Each week the artistic team, which included a small team of musicians, vocalists, and students from Birmingham Conservatoire, presented a variety of operatic, classical, and folk music, ranging from ‘Habanera’ from Bizet’s Carmen and Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel to Offenbach’s ‘Can-Can’ and extracts from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Alongside the music, the team introduced a range of sensory resources to reflect the mood of the music and explore ways to present the story and narrative. This ranged from artificial scented flower garlands for ‘The Flower Duet’ and fluffy bird puppets for ‘Papageno Duet’ which helped bring the story alive for the children and encourage interaction.
This was an opportunity that they would probably not have otherwise experienced in their lives due to the many challenges they face
The resulting concert is a one-hour musical experience, which follows an allegorical musical journey through the seasons from spring to winter. The seasons provide an opportunity to explore a breadth of mood and tempo: from the gentle awakening of spring to the joy and exuberance of summer; then the discord and stormy atmosphere offered by autumn winding down to a restful winter.
Participants were captivated by the operatic voice and fast paced music encouraged smiles, laughs, claps, and animated reactions, with many vocalising their joy and excitement. However, it is not only the children that benefit from Opera Tutti. Teachers and caregivers had an emotional response while the musicians learnt how to accommodate for a variety of different needs without the need for verbal communication.
Martin Goodwin, PMLD Specialist, Advisor, Teacher
The performances allowed pupils to respond to social events, interact and communicate with others, show awareness, explore and control stimuli. The project supported the development of physical fine motor skills, sensory integration, visual and hearing skills. Importantly, pupils had opportunities to practice and maintain previously learnt skills and generalise concepts with new people and within novel experiences.
One of Welsh National Opera’s missions is to ensure that everyone gets the opportunity to experience the power, drama and raw emotion of opera, and through projects like this, we are making this possible. For more information, please contact WNO Producer Sandra Taylor on email@example.com