This week, nestled in the green enclave of Sentul Park in Kuala Lumpur, a group of kids will saunter through 19th Century Paris, singing their hearts out…in Italian!
Thanks to a program founded four years ago by Danny Chen and Soon Yoon, KL City Opera will be performing Puccini’s La Boheme with the help of a group of newly minted opera enthusiasts ranging from ages five to eleven.
Inspired by the world famous Metropolitan Opera in New York, Danny and Soon Yoon designed a program to help bring opera to a wider audience. In addition to pre-performance talks for adults, they launched a children’s program that teaches kids about opera through crafts, storytelling, acting, and singing of course!
This year’s program kicked off in June. Kids met every Saturday morning from 10-12. Together they delved into the romantic but tragic story of Mimi, Rodolfo, and their bohemian artist friends. Over the ten week program, friendships were forged between the kids while foundations were laid for a growing appreciation of opera. In the final weeks, the kids got to meet the stage director and cast, were fitted for their costumes by the award winning costume designer Dominique Devorsine, and joined the professionals for the three nights of technical and dress rehearsals.
It’s true, I was sceptical when my friend told me about this program. But having grown up in New York and been lucky enough to find myself quite accidentally as an extra on stage at the Metropolitan Opera and subsequently developing a deep love for it, I figured if ever there was a chance to convert my kids into opera lovers or at least tolerators, this was it.
KLCO’s team delivered far beyond my expectations. The girls would come home eager to tell me about the various characters and what was happening in each act. At night, as they showered before bed, I could hear them practising their songs. Instead of begging for Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call me Maybe in the car, they pleaded for Papignol. Evenings, they didn’t ask for TV, they wanted to practice their songs and draw pictures of the stage. When I told them to pack sketch pads and books for the four hour rehearsals, they told me they didn’t need them as they could spend time talking backstage with their friends.
I’ll admit I am not sure how much I love my eldest’s new found fascination with Musetta and her use of a wealthy older boyfriend to buy her fine things – but then she does return to her true love so perhaps there is a lesson to be learned there.
Opera, like fine wine or creamy durian, is an acquired taste for a large majority of people. Most of us initially fall in love with the arias but need time to slowly develop an appreciation for the full stories and scores. We learn patience by waiting for the bits we love – or our turns if we are on stage. And we learn to be still and pay attention to the details when we might not understand every word. All valuable lessons for the kids and many adults!
Come see La Boheme and support our performers – big and small – this week at KLPAC!