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The Salzburg Festival Adapts ‘The Barber of Seville’ as an Opera for Children

By Steve Nagel s.nagel@classicalite.com on Aug 24, 2015 06:15 PM EDT

Members of the Young Singers Project may finally have found a remedy for opera's reputation for standoffishness with their unique adaptation of Rossini's Barber of Seville for children as young as four years old. The Salzburg Festival, a staple of Austrian cultural heritage since the 1920s, created the Young Singers Project in 2008 as an environment where young artists can hone their craft. It seems fitting then that the group should pass the benefits on to those even younger than themselves. As a comic opera, the subject matter of French playwright Pierre Beaumarchais's Barber of Seville is already a lighthearted romp, and therefore a flexible template for the Young Singers to work with.

While opera has done a lot to transform its image, opera is still often thought of as an endangered species. With so many adults eschewing the highbrow art form, children are rarely even given the chance to appreciate it. For arts venues, exorbitant costs and sparse audiences make for rare performances. For opera-loving parents, rare performances and confusing foreign languages mean delaying their child's exposure to the challenging art form until they can, hopefully, learn to digest it. Unsurprisingly, by the time the child grows up, the opera isn't seen as an accessible curiosity, but rather as a foreign, laborious, uncompromising ogre---ultimately leading to scanter audiences still. The cycle is vicious and destructive.

Taken from the same group of plays as Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, Barber of Seville is a gateway for children toward what could turn into a lifetime of character imprints. Also available to the children, the Young Singers will surround the performance with a series of workshops devoted to helping children understand the opera. They will guide children through the real identities of the characters disguised in costume. Ultimately, the key to the success of the performance, as with most entertainment directed at children, is exaggeration. As it stands, Beaumarchais's characters are already memorable, the opera's costumes outlandish, and a series of mistaken identities intertwined with the plot make for an ideal platform for the Young Singers to exercise their creative gifts.

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TagsBarber of Seville, young singers project, Salzburg Festival, opera for children, Opera, Rossini