Children bring new ring to the art of Wagner

1st August 2003 at 01:00
The expression "Wagnered oot" was going around the offices of Scottish Opera a little while back. It expresses the feeling of being wrung out by the Ring cycle and, with the company about to launch the complete works, it might still have some currency.

Last month's summer school run by Scottish Opera For All was, in another way, "Wagnered oot" of Glasgow's Theatre Royal, which is being rewired, and its headquarters in Elmbank Crescent, where the parent company was rehearsing. So, it was across the river to the Couper Institute for the 75 participants and their seven specialist tutors, where it was very much a case of "Wagner in".

SOFA has been using the Ring operas as the basis of its expressive arts work in secondary schools for the past two years, so it was almost seamless for the company to carry on using the stories and music of the cycle to stimulate creativity in the summer school programme, while at the same time trying to prove to the children that high art is not remote and static, but accessible and stimulating.

Keeping with tradition, the week ended with a performance for the parents.

However, radical changes in SOFA's summer schools over the past few years means this customary event has moved from performed operas on the stage of the Theatre Royal to this year's genuinely devised and owned performance from the children.

It had the two identifying hallmarks of performer-generated production the world over: the children were completely absorbed and involved in what they were doing and singing, and it was occasionally perfectly opaque to the audience. In other words, SOFA has almost become a disinterested educationist.

Talking with parents afterwards, it was obvious that some still hankered for SOFA to play its trump card and have the children in costume singing on stage in the Theatre Royal. This may be a cheap thrill, and one SOFA should not pander to, but it does point up the company's difficulty in squaring the circle between education and audience building or, to put it another way, between a 10-year-old and Scottish Opera.

One answer to the dilemma may be in The Minotaur project, which is already raising the tingle of excitement among the company. A version of this opera for eight- to 14-year-olds will tour to 10,000 schoolchildren from January before the main house production visits the major Scottish theatres next summer.

That is to come. Meanwhile, 75 children have met Wagner's work and are the better for it. Proof? The arts are claimed to enhance self-esteem. On the wall of the Couper Institute were pinned the paintings, stories and songs the children had created during the week. One song, printed out by computer, gave equal credit to the lyricist and composer, Fiona Gibson (not her real name), and Wagner. SOFA rests its case.

Scottish Opera For All, tel 0141 332 9559 www.scottishopera.org.uk

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