The magic of Mozart – for young and old alike
Friday, February 24, 2023
A schools’ matinee at Covent Garden wonderfully demonstrates why opera is worth fighting for
Last month the soprano Ailish Tynan shared on social media a truly uplifting video, taken at the curtain call of The Magic Flute at the Royal Opera House, in which she sang the role of First Lady. The Covent Garden auditorium, from stalls up to slips, was packed with cheering children, rewarding the singers they’d spent the last three hours watching with an ovation the likes of which even this revered house rarely receives.
I can vouch for the success of this schools’ matinee performance. My daughter was one of the ensemble of child actors which David McVicars’s wonderful production incorporates. Amid an already extraordinary two months for a 10-year old, performing for a full house of her peers proved a particularly special memory for her, the pillow fight that closes Papageno’s final scene rarely resonating with an audience quite so joyfully.
Anyone who has followed the recent media coverage of Arts Council cuts can probably predict where this article is heading; I’ve written on the subject several times over the past couple of months. Discussions still continue, which at least means there’s hope for a happier conclusion. Reports, audience analysis, strategies – all of this plays a role in proving points and protecting funding. But nothing is quite as eloquent as the sight of thousands of school children streaming out of an opera house with delight evident on every face.
It’s not just about access to performances either. We can also add education. The decline of focus on, and opportunities for, music in schools is destined to have a detrimental impact on awakening a love of the art form in a new generation. And let’s not forget the role of recording. I was recently invited to give a talk to a primary school assembly about the history of recording – certainly no shortage of belief in music in this school! – and was delighted to help open their ears and minds to how the process works, and to remind them of an extraordinary privilege of our age: the ability to be able to hear almost any piece of music we can think of at the touch of a button. A mere century or so since recording’s beginnings, we must never take this profound development for granted.
The Magic Flute, to go full circle, is the subject of our Collection feature in the latest edition of Gramophone. Richard Wigmore’s masterly analysis and advocacy of the opera’s rich catalogue reminds us not just of its artistic beauty, but also of its philosophical, intellectual and spiritual message. For all its sometimes perplexing plot development, the work remains a vision of a hope that light overcomes darkness, open-mindedness overcomes prejudice, and wisdom triumphs over ignorance. It’s also full of fun, and some of Mozart’s most beautiful arias. What better work with which to introduce a child to opera? Or, indeed, to remind us all of why opera is an art form worth fighting for.
This new issue also carries the sad news of the death of Malcolm Walker, Editor of Gramophone for most of the 1970s – particularly poignant falling so close to our celebrations of the magazine’s centenary. Malcolm’s life was one devoted to recording, whether at Gramophone or working within EMI; you can read our tribute here.
This article appears in the March edition of Gramophone