Opera newbies given perfect introduction in Norwich

From Playhouse to Opera House – Norwich's cultural scene provides an excellent introduction to opera this month. CAZ SLOTA reports.

Opera is an art form which divides opinion like no other. While aficionados may think of it as exciting, dramatic and moving, many others struggle to see what all the fuss is about, and find it hard to see beyond the impenetrable performance style and lofty ticket prices.

In order to open opera up to a wider audience, some companies and organisations are finding new ways to present this very traditional art form, making it more accessible to people who think opera just isn't for them. And if you are looking to expand your cultural horizons and find out more about opera, Norwich is the place to do it this month.

Over the last few years there has been a trend for major theatre companies such as the National Theatre, the Royal Opera House and Glyndebourne to screen their performances live in cinemas, allowing audiences to see top-flight shows in their home towns, without the hefty price tag. In Norwich, Cinema City is the go-to venue for this type of event — although you have to book quick.

'Since our re-opening in 2008, we have been screening The Met Opera, beamed live in high-definition from New York' says Samuel Leonard, marketing manager at Cinema City.

'These events have become a large part of what makes Cinema City different from other cinemas. Since the very first season the demand for these screenings has been high, with tickets selling out within hours of their release. The feedback from audiences is always positive, they are grateful for the opportunity to see world class opera right here in Norwich. We now screen live satellite performances from the National Theatre, Royal Opera House, Bolshoi Ballet and Glyndebourne.'

Screenings of this kind are proving popular all over the country, with many in the arts industry seeing a knock-on effect as new audiences sample live opera, with Norwich theatre-goers in particular developing a taste for it.

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'Glyndebourne On Tour now consistently sells out which is something that did not happen 5-10 years ago' says John Bultitude of Norwich Theatre Royal.

'In recent years, we have also been the best performing venue in the country when it comes to the number of tickets sold for Glyndebourne.'

Norwich Theatre Royal is also committed to introducing young people to opera. 'One way we have worked at breaking down the barriers to encourage more young people to attend is our Norfolk Schools Project. It sees pupils create their own opera from scratch with the help of expert singers, musicians and drama practitioners. The young people also get to see a professionally-produced production as part of the project to help get across the message that opera can be enjoyed by people of all ages and backgrounds.'

At Norwich Playhouse, touring company Theatre Hullabaloo is also building the opera audiences of the future. My Mother Told Me Not To Stare (pictured left), its latest show which arrives next week, is a deliciously dark and Dahl-esque opera for curious children and grown-ups, all about the crooked fairytale town of Upper Crumble, where children who break rules mysteriously disappear.

Children and opera are not a usual combination, but Nina Hajiyianni, director of the genre-busting show, thinks that the opera world is missing a trick.

'Opera is emotionally expressive in a bold and unapologetic way which children are adept at appreciating' she says.

'A fantastic story with all the best elements of traditional fairytale, beautiful music played live on a range of instruments, plus some more conventional elements of children's theatre such as puppetry and projection, make this a spectacle for our audience with real emotional resonance.'

With audiences growing and plenty of shows to take the opera-tunity to get out of your cultural comfort zone!

? My Mother Told Me Not To Stare, Norwich Playhouse, June 18, �9 (�7 cons), 01603 598598, norwichplayhouse.co.uk

? Carmen, Norwich Theatre Royal, June 22, �22.50-�6.50, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk

? The Glyndebourne Festival runs from June to early August, with five screenings at Cinema City, www.picturehouses.co.uk