The Edinburgh Academy, v70
10.00, 11.30 (ends 19 August, not 13th)
***** (5 stars)
Enchanting. Exquisite. Extraordinary… hats off to Hazel McBain and Samuel Pentcheff who were able to continue singing a complex score while a positive flood of tiny children crawled, staggered and stared around them in Scottish Opera’s production of Liam Paterson’s opera for babies and toddlers aged 6-18 months.
The story line is simple – a bird, Ucellina, discovers an egg which grows and grows and finally hatches to reveal a baby bird, Pulcino, who thinks Ucellina is his mother. They are happy together until it is time for Pulcino to fly the nest, and then, after a final farewell duet, each cheerfully goes their separate way. The singers are accompanied by Andrew Drummond Huggan on cello and Michael D Clark on percussion in a score which is rich in variety and sonic contrast: the singing is partly in Italian and partly in nonsense, bird-like syllables – and everyone on ‘stage’ is obviously having a ball.
The children also enjoyed it – the instant the cello began playing to start the show, the chorus of wails and moans and chatter stopped, and rapt hush fell. Some wee ones were happy to stay with their parent, but others were more adventurous – one tiny girl in a red frock started joining the action very early on, while a bigger boy in turquoise, who was particularly determined to explore every inch of the playing area and behind the scenes, was continually being fielded by a number of incredibly patient and loving black-clad Scottish Opera staff. The music continued throughout: even when one child was sick staff sorted it out incredibly swiftly and without disturbing the action at all. And in the middle of all this were our two ‘birds’, singing away and interacting charmingly with the wee ones crawling around their feet, playing with the cushions that filled the stage area, and generally displaying acute interest in what was going on around them.
It was a joy to watch the interaction between singers and audience – it was hard to tell who was having the most fun! On the way out, one mum confirmed that her daughter had loved the show – ‘she was silent the whole way through’: I hope this is the beginning of a love affair with opera which will last her whole life long…