“This is my daughter India,” beamed the proud mum of a five year old who had kicked the stage (out of tempo) throughout the first half of my performance, “She must be your youngest audience member ever!”
Nowhere close, lady, I like to start them young. Give me a baby at minus six months and I’ll show you a diva in the making. It all started at music college, where two good friends fell pregnant at the same time. One stopped singing, the other carried on regardless; so whilst the former’s new born son wailed whenever she sang, the latter’s daughter cooed appreciatively.
In fact, said young diva-in-training was the best yardstick for popular taste I ever knew. Her mother and I were devising an opera highlights show just after she was born, so beside us at every rehearsal was our best critic, happily contained in a vast playpen so she didn’t try and chew the music (or the pianist).
If the young starlet gurgled and kicked out at our rendition, it was a sure fire hit with audiences of all ages. (Rossini and Mozart were particular favourites, real bop-along stuff.) If she lay and la-la-la’d gently like a slightly inebriated Teletubby, it was an excellent soother for audiences after doom and gloom items. (This eclectic category included soppier Puccini bits, Soave sia il vento from ‘Cosi fan tutte’, and remarkably, anything from ‘Der Rosenkavalier’. This baby had serious taste.) If she wailed, the item was ditched faster than a tone-deaf tenor. (Sorry, Massenet.)
Armed with this insight into the younger psyche, I am well prepared for the trials of rural performances, where all the world and his wife, their parents, young offspring (and pets) come for a great night out. At village venues, I usually suggest to promoters that any fun-loving kid aged over eight will have a ball, (although younger children are always welcome.) To ensure this, I stick to my four golden rules:
- Get the kids on your side from the start. This involves the ritualistic humiliation of any male over 18 in their party by a roving Musetta or Carmen, or the amorous attentions of a Don Giovanni aimed squarely at their mum. DO NOT approach the kids themselves; this is a serious breach of Cool and Wicked Regulations.
- Don’t cut the suggestive bits. Kids usually understand them better than their parents. After all, they watch ‘Eastenders’.
- Always mention ‘The X Factor’ or the latest equivalent. It makes you look vaguely hip and the kids’ parents haven’t a clue what you are talking about.
- If all else fails, repeat rule 1. Often.
In fact, I find that young people always enjoy being close to the action. Our youngest fan was three months old (if you discount the numerous mum’s bumps we have serenaded). She loved the music (especially Rossini – what did I tell you?), the laughter, and reached out every time the soprano’s stage-lit sequinned frock turned her world into a shimmer of dancing dots of light.
There’s a new joke in there: what do you call a soprano hanging by a rope in a spotlight? A mirror ball!