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date: 22 September 2020

Children’s operalocked

  • Hugo Cole


Since medieval times children have participated in musical dramas, whether such involvement originated within a church, a school or, later, a theatrical context. This article primarily discusses the history and development of operas for children to perform, rather than works that are particularly suitable for children to watch, such as Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel or Menotti’s Help, Help, the Globolinks! Because of the very close links between school music education and the writing and performing of operas for children, especially from the end of the 19th century onwards, much of the article is concerned with the later history of the genre.

At certain medieval festivals, choirboys in France and England would elect their own boy bishops and might enact their own ludi theatrales. Thus, church records of 1497 tell us that at St Martin of Tours, on the second day of Advent, masked ‘innocentes’ would go into the city, where farces, moralities and miracles would be played – certainly with music. In Tudor times, choristers’ masques were often played at court, the Children of Paul’s appearing before Queen Elizabeth more often than any other company. In the mid-16th century, they and the Children of the Chapel Royal began to give regular performances in private theatres, and occasionally to visit the provinces, forming what were virtually professional companies. Many of the boys were also skilled instrumentalists and music played a vital part in their plays. The more elaborate were almost little operas, with songs, dramatic musical interludes, entr’actes and sometimes a final choral prayer. The last boys’ company was dissolved in ...

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