Taste of opera for Norfolk schoolchildren

Victoria LeggettHigh culture will meet playground culture this weekend as children from three Broadland schools put their stamp on a classic Italian opera.On Sunday, more than 90 pupils from Hevingham, Buxton and Aylsham's Bure Valley primary schools will present their own version of Falstaff as part of the Theatre Royal's Norfolk School's Project.Victoria Leggett

High culture will meet playground culture this weekend as children from three Broadland schools put their stamp on a classic Italian opera.

On Sunday, more than 90 pupils from Hevingham, Buxton and Aylsham's Bure Valley primary schools will present their own version of Falstaff as part of the Theatre Royal's Norfolk School's Project.

Work on the performance began in September and children have had to write their own lyrics for songs and poems, as well as choose how to stage it and what props to use.

The youngsters were told the basics of the story, which 19th-century composer Giuseppe Verdi based on the character of Falstaff from Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry IV.


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Jason Raper, education manager for the Theatre Royal, said: 'We simply said to them 'there's a man here, he's a bit of a buffoon. He thinks he's great and all the ladies really like him. How do we take him down a peg?''

Since then a team of musicians, singers and drama teachers have worked with the children at their schools to put the words to Verdi's music.

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At a rehearsal at Hevingham Primary School this week, 27 year five and six pupils handed Mr Raper a 'wish list' of props including a birthday cake, bags of money and a bottle of poison.

Oliver Coe, 10, of Marsham, said he had loved being involved but expected Sunday's performance - when the youngsters will step out on to the Theatre Royal stage in front of an audience of at least 1,000 people - would be nerve wracking. He said: 'It's going to be goose bumpy.'

The class's teacher, Sarah Lewis, said the opera had been used as a theme for other lessons and the project had seen many children bloom. She said: 'They really come out of themselves.'

Next week all of the performers will get to watch the Glyndebourne opera group's version of Falstaff to compare it with their show.

Mr Raper said the project purposely chose difficult subjects like opera to prove youngsters were capable of appreciating so-called 'high culture'. He said: 'It's seeing the theatre can be accessible for everybody, even those things people think are too complicated for children to understand.'

The Norfolk Schools Project has grown over the past 12 years, having begun as a three-day workshop in 1997. Each year, the theatre helps children from schools across the county put on shows which have previously included Petruska and Hamlet.

Tickets for Falstaff are free but must be booked in advance from the box office. Call 01603 630000 or visit www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk.

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