South Bohemian Theatre stages opera for babies

The South Bohemian Theatre in České Budějovice has joined other big opera houses around the world in staging its first opera for toddlers. Called Baby Opera, it is accessible to anyone over the age of three months and promises the youngest spectators an immersive, once-in-a-lifetime experience for all the senses.

Scientists around the world have long agreed that exposing children to music from a very early age, preferably even before they are born, can be beneficial in a multitude of ways, from improving their health to nurturing their brain development and cognitive skills.
Based on that premise, the South Bohemian Theatre Opera in České Budějovice decided to open its door to the youngest audiences, staging its very first piece for babies and toddlers.

The project was initiated by Tomáš Ondřej Pilař, the artistic director of the theatre’s opera house:

“Czech opera has lacked a project of this kind. There was no musical theatre for the youngest audiences, children of pre-school age.

“So, firstly, we wanted to fill the gap, and secondly, we consider it our mission to show very young children that opera is beautiful and that they can enjoy it.

“We hope they will keep that memory and perhaps return as grown-ups to see our regular performances.”

Tomáš Pilař | Photo: Ian Willoughby,  Radio Prague International

The piece is staged in the theatre’s studio in the attic. Using various movable objects, stage designer Jana Hauskrechtová has created a fantasy world full of colours, shapes, light and fragrances for children to discover.

There is no clear division between the stage and the auditorium. Instead the spectators, both children and their parents, are included in the performance, says Mr Pilař:

“We wanted the children to be literally surrounded by music and to have the theatre all around them. That's why we chose to stage the piece in the attic. The musicians are arranged around the auditorium and the whole space is literally filled with theatre.”

Baby Opera was written by one of the most promising composers of the younger generation, Lukáš Sommer. He says the opera only took shape after long discussions between him and director Jiří Ondra:

“We didn’t know what the final performance would look like, but we agreed that it must be inspired by the senses and perceptions. As a little boy, I would always remember small simple tunes rather than the big melodies, so I decided to build it on tunes. The singing parts use abstract syllables, based on the language of the Amazonian tribes.

“We have two small ensembles, one string quartet and a brass trio with percussion, placed opposite each other. We wanted the singers to be as free as possible, so they can also function as presenters and draw the children into the story.”

Baby Opera premiered in early November and has clearly been a success, with all its productions being sold-out so far.

Authors: Ruth Fraňková , Daniel Jäger
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