A Monday morning at the opera

SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN OPERA

February 9

Insight into Opera, February 10

Edinburgh Festival Theatre

Some of the best things in life, like old wine and opera, are acquired tastes, and blest are those who wisely guide us in the acquisition.

I'm not sure whether Travelling Opera really wants to see itself as a kind of alcopop of the Opera House, but for 10 years it has been serving up easy-drinking cocktails, always leaving its audiences stirred, but not shaken. Typical of its educational work last week at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre was its double bill of a performance and an "Insight" programme.

Six Characters in Search of an Opera is a comic-opera story of love and intrigue, studded with some of the best-loved arias and duets. It is an admirable introduction to opera and, very importantly, it comes cheap.

At Pounds 2.50 for best stalls seats for students, this is opera for pocket-money. For the same low price, schools were offered places at the "Insight into Opera" programme on the weekday morning. This promised to tell you absolutely everything you wanted to know about opera, but were too far away to ask.

Peter Knapp, the moving spirit behind Travelling Opera, is soaked in opera experience.

"I've done everything except iron the costumes," he says, and he justifies his boast in a practised presentation, outlining the history of opera, telling and acting the stories, singing and conducting the audience.

Scattered about the Mozart and the Monteverdi are stories of nocturnal performances in abandoned Tuscan nunneries, explanations of why the best British singers come from Wales and the North, and demonstrations of how acting like a gorilla helps you sing. Before the audience is allowed to join in the chorus to his "Toreador's Song", we are first taught how to sing fortissimo without disturbing a candle flame.

Only one thing was missing - the schools. Not one of them attended. No need to ask why, just choose your reason: Monday mid-morning; a fringe arts activity; no obvious targeted age-range; no integration with the curriculum. For these and other reasons, Edinburgh schools had to let lie an opportunity to crack open one of the hardest nuts of the arts scene, and the "Insight" had to be squandered on adults.

Of course, there's always Scottish Opera. It runs an admirable education machine (which incidentally rumbles into Edinburgh next week) but it welcomes all the help it can get. It could have a worthy ally in Travelling Opera, a talented troupe of devoted communicators. The city should make better use of it on its next visit.

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