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Young voices get a treble helping

Operatunities have come knocking for two teachers, an education welfare officer and two London schoolboys

IT IS 6pm at the stage door of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, on Monday. Soloists and members of the chorus drift in for the last performance of The Magic Flute.

Then come two boys pushing collapsible scooters - David Stark and Pablo Strong, members of a team of young singing stars who share the roles of the three boys who escort Tamino, the opera's hero. Aged just 12 and 13, most of the six have a string of opera roles behind them. Good trebles are at a premium - and the voice does not last.

Pablo, 13, a pupil at Elliott school in Putney, has sung the haunting part of Miles, in The Turn of the Screw, in a number of European capitals.

David, also 13 and a choral scholar at the independent Dulwich college, has sung in two Britten operas and appeared in Tosca.

A good singing teacher with connections seems to be the key to gaining auditions, along with supportive parents and a head prepared to release talented pupils.

"The school has had to be quite flexible," said Alexander Deng, a 13-year-old pupil at the private Latymer school in north London (and veteran of Tosca, Madam Butterfly and The King and I).

"My head hasn't stopped anything yet. But next year he says I've got to knuckle down to GCSEs."

The next day, children gather for a rehearsal of Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen. It has 28 parts for children. Many with dancing and acting roles have come through the Royal Opera House's Chance to Dance scheme, which offers free ballet classes to primary pupils in the London boroughs of Lambeth, Southwark and Hammersmith and Fulham.

One of them is Connor Williams, eight, who plays a fly. He has already appeared in the ballet La Fille Mal Gardee and is in Sleeping Beauty next month too.

Janet O'Connor, children's co-ordinator, helps to keep their feet on the ground. "We don't do divas here," she said.

Connor, of St Peter's primary in Southwark, is keeping his options open.

When he grows up, he wants to be "a solicitor or a ballet dancer".

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