This Opera Connects with Children

Text Helena Gyllenskepp, Soya Group Photo Karin Röse Published 06 October, 2022
For an intense half-hour, in a small venue and on a minimal stage, every sentiment imaginable is experienced. The stage itself invites to climbing and tickles the imagination. We attended the opera Sova Vaken (Sleeping awake) on one of the shows during its Sweden-tour – an opera for children produced by Young at the Opera in collaboration with Wallenius.

The young audience of children from 6-9 years of age, yells from both delightment and from fear as Gun, one of two main characters, walks in her sleep and almost trips over the children. As much joy and laughter are expressed as the other character, Majs the cat, and Gun dance and sing together in the bed, which covers half of the stage.

Serious theme

In the bottom of the stage, you can imagine windows to the ground floor where Gun’s parents are fighting. The theme of the opera is the fear of separation. A serious and hard theme for all, but especially for children. Thanks to the music by Daniel Nelson, which shifts from dramatic melodies and keys in minor to a happy and joyous outro, the audience is taken through the hardship to the relieved ending when Gun realises it’s not her fault her parents are separating.

The 90 children attending the show, come from a school close-by. The tour is managed by Riksteatern, the National Theatre Company, which has the motto “to create performing arts that move emotions and feelings for all everywhere”.

Ulrika Skarby is a free-lance operasinger and acts as Majs the cat. She gets to see the children’s emotions from the stage and says:

“One show is not like the other. Age of the children and the different groups matter. Sometimes they’re quiet as mice and other times, like today with three pre-school classes, the children loudly express what they experience and jumps around. We adjust the show depending on the audience – which makes it a real live-show.”

Pocket Opera

The stage can easily be disassembled and the music, apart from the two singers, is stored on a USB flash drive – a pocket opera. This unique solution makes the opera so much more accessible. The opera can come to the children instead of the other way around. It tours around Sweden with more than 80 shows.

“This can be the first time these children experience the opera. And whatever they feel about it, we want to make sure we deliver it perfectly,” Ulrika continues.

The singers certainly make the most from the limited props – swinging from the stage, hiding behind it and pretending to walk down the imaginary staircase. All this adds to the experience, and captives the children’s attention.

Jessica Elevant acts as Gun, whose parents are fighting:

“It is a privilege to act for children. Their response is immediate and we recieve energy from them during the show. This is my second show today, but I could do five more, thanks to the children.”

Tutoring Material

The Young at the Opera has produced material for the tutors to prepare the children in advance. Opera can be experienced as hard and loud. Several bring ear protection to the children.

“I think adults spread the idea of opera being hard and loud for the children to hear. We rarely see the ear protection being used. But of course, when we sing a duet and the music escalates to a crescendo it gets loud. But then the children will have that experience as well.”

Cecilia Kolga has collaborated with the Young at the Opera to produce this show:

“We should all feel very proud of this opera. It is thanks to Wallenius, that these children attending the show can experience opera in this unique form. All cultural experiences affect children positively. This is something we have seen during the past seven years collaborating with Young at the Opera to spread culture around schools in the Stockholm area. It feels great to extend the opportunity to so many more children around the whole of Sweden.”

The opera Sova Vaken (Sleeping Awake) continues touring around Sweden this autumn.

Katten Majs i operan Sova Vaken. Foto: Karin Röse