October 17, 2018 / 2:11 AM / a month ago

Building a lifelong love of opera in toddlers, one hop at a time

LONDON (Reuters) - Two-year-old Emily is already on her way to a lifetime love of Opera. She particularly likes the hopping.

Welcome to London’s Royal Opera House, where Opera Dots, a workshop for toddlers, aims to build a future fan base, one hop at a time.

Beneath an elegant iron-and-glass ceiling, a group of young guests giggle on a multi-coloured play mat as they mimic a costumed performer singing and dancing her way through ‘Hansel and Gretel’. Some of the children do boisterous impressions of a scary witch, luring the innocent pair into her house of sweets.

According to its annual reports, attendance at the Royal Opera House has fallen by 137,000 since 2013. The opera aims to turn the tide, by making the art more accessible to young people — even very young people.

“It was due to the growing evidence around the importance of early years education, so what we want to do as part of the Open Up programme is have a really diverse range of programmes and workshops so that all people of all ages can access the Royal Opera House,” said the opera house’s Head of National Programmes, Amy McGann.

The course begins with babies as young as three months, and goes up to five years old. Early childhood music specialist Nicola Burke, who helped to create the course, said “it’s about time” opera was opened up to very small fans.

“All people can engage in opera,” she said. While the course is fun (and there is plenty of hopping), the opera is for real: “to ensure that that authentic art form is offered, and right from the beginning really,” she said.

“Opera is just a really good habit to have in later life, I think it will really make their life really interesting,” said Yiqi Zhou, from Surrey southwest of London, who brought three-year-old Alicia to build her confidence.

Emily was brought along by her godmother Caro Bamforth: “I think it’s important for education, cultural education and broad interests and an early introduction to some something that gives you great pleasure later in life,” she said.

Reporting by Helena Williams; Writing by Peter Graff

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