The characteristic productions of the Petit Liceu are of unquestionable musical quality and they have amazed the little ones. Petit Liceu is the flagship of the educational project at the Liceu, but it is only part of all the activities that brings to life the Liceu commitment to bring opera to everyone. Sira Torrecillas, head of the Education Department of the Gran Teatre del Liceu talks about the challenges of programming for a very demanding audience and how rewarding it is to arouse emotions in children.

A COMMITMENT TO SOCIETY

KM: Your educational project has a strong presence in the Liceu. What is the motivation to devote so much space to children?

ST: Our educational project is designed to understand "education" in a broad sense. Many of the activities that the theater runs, and that are not necessarily aimed at children, have a clear educational intention, such as the informative conferences we in libraries, community centres or associations, the previous sessions we do before the functions for the general public, or some productions from Petit Liceu that can also introduce opera to adults.

In spite of our educational project not aiming only to children, they are clearly the first link of a long chain, and showing opera to them means we are sowing the seeds of future music lovers.

Therefore, it is all about offering the first contact with opera to the youngest generation, adapted to their needs and interests, which in turn allows them to develop new skills and enjoy fully the experience of opera, dance and music in general.

Children have a natural predisposition to music and it is very good that the environment offers all possible resources to contribute to this natural stimulation, accompanying the growth of smaller children through pleasurable experiences.

Students from Vedruna Àngels School in Barcelona © Gran Teatre del Liceu
Students from Vedruna Àngels School in Barcelona
© Gran Teatre del Liceu

How is opera, as opposed to other music genres, beneficial to a child’s growth and development?

Opera is one of the most complete and diverse shows. In opera we found vocal music from soloists and chorus, instrumental music, ballet interventions, texts, stage sets, costumes, lighting, etc. And it has the advantage that these elements are offered live.

On the other hand, opera, by combining all these elements gives the texts the strength and emotion that you don’t find in other genres, because in the end, an opera tells a story and by listening to opera children (and older people) can develop their imagination, learn to be tolerant, discover other cultures, improve their vocabulary, understand the development and evolution of plots and characters. Above all, they build their love for music and understand the connection between different artistic disciplines so they learn to appreciate art in general. The opera is living literature, in motion. It uses several languages simultaneously which causes the message to gain more value and meaning.

PROGRAMMING AND WORKING FOR CHILDREN

What challenges do you face when designing the programme and activities of your educational project?

When the Liceu began its commitment to the educational community and society in general through a series of educational activities in the early 1980s, we were practically the only ones who were offering these types of activities and shows.

Today the educational project has been consolidated by creating a stable program with a very characteristic staging and with unquestionable musical quality.

However, a major challenge lies in the fact that in recent years there has proliferated much competition in the field of cultural activities offered to children. Teachers and families have a wide range to choose from. Aware of all this, the Liceu works to make the pedagogical and educational area grow and evolve.

Another challenge is to maintain a balanced season with our most established titles and the introduction of new productions with which we try to adapt to a changing context and where we want to include more participatory and interactive elements.

And one of the challenges that I think is shared by much of the cultural sector is to attract the attention of an audience such as range 13-14 years to 30. It is often possible to find appropriate activities and productions attractive to this age, but the difficulty is to get them to come and see them. In trying to reach this goal we combine the educational strategy with a special pricing policy.

Another difficulty we face is to fit the Petit Liceu productions on the space we have. There is only one stage at the Liceu and the many activities and functions taking place in its areas are not always compatible or possible at the same time.

It is also very important for us to try to break certain barriers and end stereotypes such as those about opera being elitist, expensive, only for experts or not suitable for all audiences.

Open Day at Gran Teatre del Liceu © Gran Teatre del Liceu
Open Day at Gran Teatre del Liceu
© Gran Teatre del Liceu

What do you seek to awake in the young audience with the Petit Liceu productions?

They (the productions) seek to arouse interest and especially emotions. As I mentioned, it is important to break certain barriers and stereotypes around opera. The little ones don’t have certain prejudices and therefore it is easier to reach them, but as they approach adolescence it is increasingly difficult to capture their interest.

It is our intention to draw their attention so they can discover a new way to develop their imaginative and creative abilities.

It is all about awakening sensitivity in children and young people, their aesthetic sense, their listening and introducing them to the elements of music.

What is the most satisfying thing about working with children?

While many think that children are unable to appreciate, value and understand the opera because of its complexity, children actually have an amazing capacity to be moved and impressed by what happens on stage, as they are less conditioned and have fewer prejudices than adults and experience more intensely the passions and emotions that the characters evoke.

Their faces of surprise, the gratitude they express, their answers so sincere... are invaluable.

All in all, around how many children do your education programmes reach?

Since the 1999-2000 season, we have had more than 1,287,820 spectators attending shows of the Petit Liceu (854,030 schoolchildren and 433,790 families) with a total of 1629 functions.

During the past season (16/17), almost 70,000 children attended activities at the Liceu (family and school functions, rehearsals, audiovisual "Opera: A thrill", guided school visits, "The mystery of the score","Sponsor your equipment" and training sessions for teachers).

How do children react in the shows they attend?

With respect, surprise, emotion, attention and interest.

PREPARE AND TEACH THE AUDIENCE

How important is it to prepare children prior to attending functions?

It is vital. It is very important and influences decisively the motivation with which they come to the the performance and, of course, increases exponentially what they can get out of it.

You can clearly notice when a teacher has prepared the kids beforehand, because it shows in the attitude as soon as they arrive in the theatre, how they sit, how they behave. They pay close attention and they do not want to miss any detail of what happens on stage, in some cases, they even hum or sing the arias.

In order to facilitate this preparation, we provide tutorials of each of the activities we offer and support the work prior to the visit that teachers do with children. We also offer free sessions for teacher training.

What do you make of the state of music education in your country at the moment?

I think schools are dedicating less and less hours to music and only few centres decide to work on music education in a wide sense and more hours than those the curriculum states.

Music education is crucial for the proper development of many other skills, and it may also stimulate the acquisition of other skills that apparently have nothing to do with the music.

What does music education mean to you, beyond building an audience of future opera-goers?

For us the educational project does not respond only to a need to develop new audiences. It is one of 10 areas of our social project’s main objective of bringing opera to everyone, from all corners and whatever their economic status, age, etc.

This mission is clearly stated at the Liceu and therefore it is the main objective of our educational work. For this reason we also have a scholarship scheme where we fund 50% to some schools or 100% to the schools which lie on this same district such as those in the Raval.

In the end, it is the "Liceu of all", and this is what inspires us to work and get more people to the opera and to provide equal opportunities for people to enjoy the opera, this way, we give back to society what society gives us.

Apart from the Petit Liceu productions, what other activities you would highlight from your educational project?

Petit Liceu is the flagship, the most established and most valued part of our educational project, but we have many activities tailored to different audiences and ages. Maybe they are not so well known, but they allow an approach to opera, ballet and music as well as to the theatre.

These activities include: guided tours; the audiovisual "Opera: A thrill" shown after a tour through the theatre that explains what is needed to put on an opera; "The mystery of the score" which is a set of clues for younger children by which they discover details of the theatre and opera; attending rehearsals and talks.

Could you tell us about any exciting projects you have for schoolchildren and families?

<i>El joven barbero de Sevilla</i>, a production from Petit Liceu © A. Bofill | Gran Teatre del Liceu
El joven barbero de Sevilla, a production from Petit Liceu
© A. Bofill | Gran Teatre del Liceu

It is hard to choose, but I will take the opportunity to highlight perhaps the least known. On one hand, El joven barbero de Sevilla and "Opera: A thrill", premiered this season. Both represent an answer to some of the challenges we mentioned above.

In El joven barbero de Sevilla, the students get involved up to the point of singing, in groups, some of the arias. Hearing everyone singing makes your hair stand on end. Here the credit is for the teachers who prepared them before the performance. The thing is that singing makes them to be more attentive, and they have to pay attention to when to enter. At the same time, they enjoy the thrill of listening to what they have prepared thoroughly in class.

This new production with its exquisite staging, the collaboration of the Orquestra del Liceu Conservatory and the antics of Figaro have seduced the students who have had the opportunity to come to see it.

Among other activities aimed at younger audiences, I would highlight the new audiovisual "Opera: A thrill" which explains in an entertaining way everything that has to do with the preparation of an opera until its staging.