Scottish Opera's BambinO: teaching language one aria at a time

This article is from 2017

Scottish Opera's BambinO: teaching language one aria at a time

Composer Lliam Paterson talks about his opera for babies, a project that's divided opinion

When Lliam Paterson told people he was writing an opera for babies aged 6–18 months, he found the replies fell into two camps: 'great' and 'why bother?' Thankfully, he didn't have to look far for a response to the latter comment, having spent hours on research while composing BambinO, Scottish Opera's latest show for infants. 'I looked at various academic studies on the impact music can have on very young minds and found you can directly tie classical music to developing language skills,' he explains. 'But how I could bring that research into the piece was something I had to think long and hard about.'

One discovery he made was that babies recognise recurring themes; this prompted Paterson to include a distinctive sequence in the overture, repeated several times throughout the opera. The choice of instruments was also important, and having worked with a focus group of adults and babies, Paterson opted for a quartet comprising cello, percussion, soprano and baritone.

'The babies' most enthusiastic responses came when the soprano voice sang very high, so it was clear we had to have that voice. And a lot of babies aren't exposed to male singing, so I wanted to introduce that in a gentle way with a baritone. With a very low male voice, you also feel physical vibrations.'

Having devised the simple tale of a baby bird hatching, connecting with its mother then making its way into the world, Paterson was aware he needed to hold his audience's attention, but not scare them. 'I've been careful about how I move through the different vocal registers, so I usually start in the middle and gradually move to the top or bottom. And I've tried not to combine all the musical and vocal components too much; it's more about gently building up layers.'

BambinO, Edinburgh Academy, Henderson Row, 8–20 Aug (not 14), 10am, 11.30am, £12 for adult and baby (£7 for additional adult).

Scottish Opera: BambinO

  • 4 stars

Scottish Opera's opera for babies aged 6–18 months.