Oh, we do love to be...on stage

14th July 2000 at 01:00
Youngsters are putting off time in the sun for a spell in the spotlight. Brian Hayward reports on the success of an opera summer school

Have you heard the one about the child who stopped her family going on holiday because she wanted to go back to school? They heard it first at Scottish Opera For All, in bitter-sweet complaints from parents whose children were so keen to attend the SOFA summer schools this month that family holiday dates had to be changed.

Three hundred children aged eight to 12 are taking part in the Glasgow and Edinburgh schools and shows this year. The summer school takes the same form in both cities: a five-days residency of skills, practice and rehearsals leading to performances at either the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, or the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh.

This summer the company parades two of the repertoire pieces it regularly uses in schools, but in suitably augmented form. Way Out West (music by David Munro, lyrics by Allan Dunn) is a cheerful western in which white settlers and the First Nation join forces to evict the cavalry from a promising goldmine; The Music of Life (lyrics by Ross Stenhouse) is a musical lesson in music.

This is the third year of the summer schools, the second at the Theatre Royal, and the work is visibly consolidating. Gone are the days when supremo Jane Davidson had to choose her backcloths from whatever was left on the rack from the main company season. This year Sallie Wilcox contributes two backdrops: one is an abstract of notes, clefs and time signatures, and the other is a western scene of the prairie, with cowboy, Indian encampment and Rocky Mountains, which - who knows? could one day serve the main company for The Girl of the Golden West.

The gala performance of this year's Glasgow school began with the staged entry of all 72 Indians, settlers and hobby-horse riding cavalry, a pageant of costume and disciplined movement that drew instinctive applause from an over-flowing dress circle of parents and important guests, among them Scottish Opera's music director, Richard Armstrong.

The finale to the music lesson show brought on all 78 members of the cast, the white notes and black leather accidentals and people of every walk of life whose actions and machinery make the natural music of life, singing, waving, showered with gold leaves and, as we used to say in Variety, "filling the stage with flags".

Equally effective had been the beginning of the musical, when one diminutive girl came out on the darkened front of the huge stage, summoned up a spotlight and raised the curtain. It typified an evening that brimmed with the confidence of a company on top form, so much so that, although the youngsters were recruited on a first come, first served basis, there were times when you felt you could be watching the cadet branch of the main company.

Of course, SOFA doesn't do it just for the children; education also happens in the dress circle. Parents come in three grades; Foundation are surprised when the house lights go down, General come alive when the cast goes into a Village People version of "Go West", and Credit grade parents groan loudly when Monsieur Le Melodie explains that the presence of black keys on a keyboard isn't accidental. All three groups now know their way to the theatre.

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