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Features / BambinO: introducing opera to new ears

The opera for babies is aimed at six to 18 month olds. Photos: Scottish Opera

PARENTS and babies will be in for a musical treat this month as Scottish Opera brings their highly acclaimed opera for babies to Mareel.

BambinO, which has already had sell-out runs in Paris and New York, will be coming to Mareel on the 21 and 22 of September. Written by Scottish Opera’s former Composer in Residence Lliam Paterson, and directed by Phelim McDermott, BambinO is aimed at six to 18 month olds (and their parents, naturally).

Baritone Sam Pantcheff said Scottish Opera encorages people to think about the unusual concert as an opera, not a kids’ show.

“It’s a serious composition, not dumbed down in any way,” he said.

Two singers (baritone and soprano), a cellist and a percussionist take the bairns on an operatic adventure: a bird, Uccellina (soprano), finds an egg which hatches into Pulcino (baritone), who learns to fly. The babies, Sam said, have ‘free reign’, as the little ones are free to interact with each other, and even the performers.

Everything is geared up for the kids to enjoy themselves, relax, and experience the music. The whole concert clocks in at around 40 minutes, which Sam said was just the right length of time for such small audience members.

“Any longer and you end up losing the attention of the kids,” he said.

While the narrative doesn’t change, he explained that the performance does with every show, as the babies interact with both singers and musicians. The opera even includes a unique middle segment where the music mimics the sounds of the infant audience – depending on the mood of the little ones, this can vary wildly from show to show.

“It always makes each show different,” Sam said. “We get a very varied reception from the babies… most of the time the babies are enthralled.”

Four morning performances are planned for 21 and 22 September.

The four Mareel performances (two each morning) are part of a national tour, following on from shows in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness, Perth and the Edinburgh Fringe, with Shetland being the final performance.

While many of Scottish Opera’s performers have been to Shetland, Sam has never been to the isles, and hopes to used the free afternoons to see some of the sights:

“I’m hoping to see something of it, definitely,” he said. “I always try and see as much of a place as possible.”

BambinO’s credits should catch the interest of any classical music fan. The work’s composer, Lliam Paterson, is a highly praised talent, and has been up for (and won) several prestigious awards – including a nomination for BambinO at the Royal Philharmonic Society Awards.

Director Phelim McDermott has an impressive list of directorial credits to his name at a variety of opera houses across the globe; the most recent being a well-received production of Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte for New York’s Metropolitan Opera.

The show isn’t just for babies and toddlers – part of the purpose of BambinO is to reach parents who may not be opera fans. Sam noted that many parents have told the cast that they have never seen their children sit still for so long. Introducing opera to new ears, young and old, is as important as the entertainment itself.

“There is a big movement in trying to get babies and kids introduced [to] music,” Sam said. “It really does make and impact… absolutely vital work.”

BambinO is certainly an unusual concept, but one which Sam said puts a smile on the faces of kids and parents alike. Despite the rigours of morning performances (“10am is early for an opera singer,” he remarked), the cast look forward to every performance.

“It’s super-fun for us,” he said. “It’s a very high-energy show. It’s exhausting but super-fun in equal measure. I love it!”

Tickets for BambinO are available at Mareel or via the Shetland Box Office.

Alex Garrick-Wright