Opera jazzed up for child appeal

8th September 2006 at 01:00
Opera, is it fabulous drama set to beautiful music or large ladies in long dresses wailing incomprehensible songs?

The chances are most children would tick the second option. But Darren Fellows hopes to re-invent the genre for the Lily Allen generation. His Jazzy Opera Classix is a new book and CD using a fusion of jazz and opera, familiar pieces and lighthearted explanations. And the Cardiff music teacher hopes it will build a new audience.

"The opera audience is dying and there isn't going to be a future one, so that's what I'm trying to create," he says.

"Through Jazzy Opera Classix I hope to make opera more accessible so that young people will want to play it and watch it.

"The book is set out like an opera, with an overture, introduction and finale written in a very light-hearted way to break down the stigma and snobbishness associated with the music."

Pieces have been chosen for their familiarity: Puccini's Nessun Dorma is one. It is instantly recognisable as the BBC's theme music for the 1990 football World Cup.

"Children will have heard the tune somewhere before, but they might not associate it with opera," he says.

The backing tracks on the CD, which accompanies the book, have been recorded by members of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Welsh National Opera.

"It's a weird sort of fusion between jazz and opera," he says. "It's really a mix of rock, blues and funk, not old-fashioned jazz."

A graduate of the Welsh College of Music and Drama, Mr Fellows started to play the trumpet aged eight and had his first composition published at just 17.

"I was very lucky because they had free music lessons in schools," he says, crediting the music teacher at his Leeds secondary school with setting him on the right track.

He has experienced the flip side, too. His confidence in performing was destroyed by a later teacher, he says. Now 31, he works as a community music project manager, private teacher and organiser of workshops. He also composes for young people, music for the exam syllabus and pieces for the principal trumpet of the Welsh National Opera.

"I believe in giving the student a good balance of classical and jazz and letting them decide which they prefer," he says.

Jazzy Opera Classix is published by Schott Musik Intl, ISBN: 1902455290

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