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Overture to the fat lady's demise

The Royal Opera House hopes that a new computer program will banish musical myths. Nicholas Pyke reports.

Children are being targeted by a scheme which aims to introduce the Ms Dynamite generation to Don Giovanni.

The virtual-reality opera kit, being sent to every secondary school in England, shows 12 and 13-year-olds that opera need not mean "fat ladies throwing themselves off battlements".

The software package, being launched next week, has been devised by the Royal Opera House and features Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes.

It will allow pupils to direct their own animated productions. Paul Reeve, head of schools and youth music at the ROH, said opera was bedevilled by misconceptions. "Often these caricatures are based on little or no knowledge. We don't want to be prescriptive, but if people decide they don't like opera, we want them to do so from an informed standpoint," he said.

This summer, for the first time, the RoH is staging a series of school matinees for its production of Peter Grimes. It already has a long-standing training programme for teachers called Write an Opera.

The distribution costs of the new software of more than pound;80,000, called In2Arts:Opera have been paid by the Department for Education and Skills.

"I do think it's true that unlike other countries, opera isn't often seen as part of the arts curriculum in our schools," said Mr Reeve.

"In other European countries opera would be studied in music. In France it would be studied as part of both music and drama. But here the vast majority of pupils will go through education without ever covering opera."

Peter Grimes, about an outsider shunned by a North Sea fishing community, has themes still relevant today, said Mr Reeve. "It's not about fat ladies throwing themselves off battlements."

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