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Barbie's new role as cultural ambassador

"Barbie" has been called upon to play many roles in her long life as a doll: model, flight attendant, nurse, teacher, doctor, vet ... Now her creator, the toy giant Mattel, has come up with her most ambitious challenge to date - promoter of classical music to little girls.

"Barbie at the Symphony" - billed as an educational experience where you can "learn about classical music" with the world's most famous doll - has been created on the back of a series of full-length animated Barbie DVDs, based on fairy tales with classical music soundtracks.

Premiered in the United States in 2007, Barbie at the Symphony has embarked on a European tour and reached the UK last month, where its first Scottish date was at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow.

Despite a ticket price of pound;15 per person, hundreds of little girls (average age five), many of them clutching their own Barbie dolls, flocked to the Glasgow show. On stage in the concert halls' main auditorium was the Scottish Concert Orchestra, led by ponytailed American conductor Arnie Roth, the musical director for all seven of the Barbie Princess movies.

During the tour, a local orchestra is engaged at each venue to accompany the Barbie movie excerpts that appear on a large screen above the stage. In addition, Roth interacts with an animated Barbie figure on the screen who - in the role of roving cultural ambassador - "speaks" to him from a variety of world locations. Barbie's stopping off points include Lausanne, where she's addressing an environmental conference; Tokyo, where she's appearing with her "band"; and Montreal, where she's taking part in an international figure skating exhibition.

Shoe-horned into the 90-minute programme are the educational segments, mainly consisting of brief biographies of the featured composers which are way over the heads of most of the audience. Barbie at the Symphony ends with a tantalising glimpse of the doll's latest DVD, Island Princess, which can be bought in the foyer for pound;15.

The best part of the event for some was not the music but the chance to meet a "live" Barbie: the blond promotions girl dressed in a pink evening gown, who signed autographs and posed for pictures.


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