A couple of weeks ago I was invited to go along to see B’Opera’s latest production, Hello Bird, Hello Fish! This is an opera that has grown out of a series of collaborative workshops B’Opera ran together with the Springfield Community. It was a work in progress performance and an opportunity for the B’Opera team to show the people they had been working with the show so far and to gather their feedback about the opera. I thoroughly enjoyed the show, I thought it was lovely, energetic and fun. It was made to appeal to under 5s and their families, and it absolutely did.
Separated from the flock, Lost Bird is lonely and looking for a friend. Meanwhile, Noisy Fish is rejected by the shoal for fidgeting and talking during yoga class. Lost Bird and Noisy Fish bond over music – an Urdu lullaby they both learned as babies, and realise they have more in common than first meets the eye. Their friendship is further strengthened when Lost Bird helps Noisy Fish out of a tight spot.
When you go to see an opera you usually sit amongst the audience in seats facing a stage. The stage is on a raised platform in front of you, separate from you, and often the show starts and ends with a lowered curtain hiding the stage and performers. B’Opera performances are very different to this usual set up. At this showing the performers were out in the church hall interacting with the children there right from the moment I arrived, one amusing some children by playing Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes on a kazoo. When it came time to start the opera, two pieces of fabric, which had been hung up on display boards at one end of the hall were removed from the Display Boards and taped to the floor in front of the 2 banks of chairs, to denote the performance area. There were cushions and blankets on the floor for people to sit on if they chose rather than having to use the seats, though of course the seats were available for anyone who wanted them.
While there were these fabric borders to the performance area, quite a few of the children in the audience went onto the performance area and sort of joined in with the action. This was absolutely fine and not discouraged at all. Children, and especially young children, just cannot sit still. B’Opera know this and are very happy for children to move around them during their shows. During Hello Bird, Hello Fish! the performers handed out sensory scarves for children (and their grown ups) to use as wings, or blew bubbles (to represent the fish) for the children to watch or pop. Defintely pop. That was much more fun than just watching the bubbles. The bubbles were definitely more popular than the scarves – sorry Lost Bird!
I also saw one boy quite regularly going over to the keyboard and touching the keys, and there was no problem with him doing this. There was a story element in the show where Noisy Fish did not fit in with her quieter, more zen, more still fish friends. One child had clearly decided that she was friends with the Zen Fish, was following them, even joining in with their yoga and with telling Noisy Fish off for being, well, noisy. Long term readers of this blog will know that I have attended B’Opera Relaxed Performances with my own children, but this time it was lovely to watch the other children’s reactions to the piece, ranging from wide-eyed following every move, to bubble bursting, to giggling, to dancing around in a circle.
B’Opera have been working with Designer-Maker Rukhsana Sardar to produce the set and costumes for the opera. I loved the simplicity of both the set and costumes. The costumes for each set of animals were similar, but not identical, and had a homemade feel to them which I loved and felt was completely fitting with a show that very much has roots in a community project. Rukhsana made use of recycled materials throughout, and I loved the little stuffed fish, and pieces of net attached to the stage set fabrics. She is in the process of setting up a zero waste textile business, so sustainability is clearly very important to her generally, but it is another very fitting part of the story which is all about creatures of the air and the sea, environments that are highly affected by human action changing the climate.
So, on to the opera and the music. For this opera B’Opera used a mix of musical styles and traditions. There were opera arias (songs) that led into traditional children’s songs; instrumental classical music used to highlight parts of the story, such as Aquarium from Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saëns suggesting fish swimming in the sea. Familiar songs mixed with less familiar songs and there was even a bit of beat boxing. I think my favourite part of the show was when Bach’s Air on a G String was played on kazoo! It was brilliant, odd and very funny. At one point Noisy Fish started to sing a lullaby she had been taught as a baby, which Lost Bird joined in with as she had also been taught the same lullaby as a baby, these two very different creatures bonding over a shared piece of music. This was an Urdu lullaby that came out of the workshops. The diverse mix of musical styles and traditions involved in this opera were drawn together seamlessly through the show. The story is fast paced, and the only long piece of music is an instrumental piece that accompanies a lot of action on stage. The opera is very much designed with very young children in mind, and considering the attention spans of very young children.
The opera I saw was a performance of a work in progress, and this production was developed from a project B’Opera was involved in with the Springfield Community, both parents and children, in a series of collaborative workshops. These workshops explored themes of sameness and difference through music. Out of these workshops the idea for Hello Bird, Hello Fish! grew, and this was a first performance where the people who had taken part in those workshops were invited to come and see the opera that came out of their workshops, and were invited to give their opinion on the show; what they liked and what they maybe didn’t enjoy so much. So once it is ready to be taken on tour, the final production may look different to what I saw. I very much hope they keep the kazoos though!
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