Opera’s first DVD aims for child audience

Putnu opera

Opera is a genre not usually equated with children’s entertainment. The usual perception is that opera is for adults with refined musical tastes. To entertain kids you need loud music, bright lights, colour, movement—and as children are not too discerning, you don’t need to worry about quality.

The recently released DVD Putnu opera proves this stereotype wrong. Just as you can get your kids to eat decent food and not live on sub-standard fare, you can also take your ankle-biters to the opera and come home with both parents and children content.

“Putnu opera” has been around for a few years. The premiere was six years ago on Dec. 22, 2000, and every year since the Latvian National Opera schedules a few performances. This is the first performance by the opera that has been digitized and made available on DVD.

The play is the successful collaborative effort of famous Latvian author and playwright Māra Zālīte and composer Jānis Lūsēns. Based on the children’s book characters created by Hugh Lofting—Dr. Dolittle and his loyal bevy of animals—the opera has a simple scenario. Dr. Dolittle and his friends are visited by a distressed opera diva, Pipinella the canary, who is searching for her canary friend Cheep, also an opera singer. During the search and rescue mission, which takes Dr. Dolittle and his entourage all over town and frees some captive birds, the animals decide to put on an opera and begin rehearsals.

The basic plot is enhanced by sub-plots; these are common elements in most operas. The difference here is that these side issues are not too confusing so children can easily follow the storyline without needing to get bogged down trying to understand the details. The beauty of DVDs are the subtitles that weren’t available in pre-DVD times. Even though the opera was in Latvian (not the traditional German or Italian, so theoretically it should be easy to follow), by reading the Latvian subtitles as well made it is much easier to understand the storyline.

The characters (and especially their costumes—kudos to costume designer Kristīne Jurjāne) are so exaggerated but at the same time stylized and easily recognizable that the children in the audience will remain mesmerized for most, if not all, of the performance. We even had a 3-year-old in our family audience of five and he sat through most of the 75-minute DVD without fidgeting, which says something about this opera!

A bonus features section gives a lighthearted behind-the-scenes look at the Latvian National Opera and the way a production is put together. The joint efforts of the various departments (artistic, musical, lighting, costume, stage management) are all mentioned, showing the viewers the complexity involved in staging an opera.

Getting kids to watch an opera is no mean feat.  But it is possible as all the elements of good entertainment are there—colour, movement, high-class opera—all in Latvian!


Putnu opera

Mārā Zālīte and Jānis Lūsēns

Rīga:  Latvijas Nacionālā opera,  2006

Daina Gross is editor of Latvians Online. An Australian-Latvian she is also a migration researcher at the University of Latvia, PhD from the University of Sussex, formerly a member of the board of the World Federation of Free Latvians, author and translator/ editor/ proofreader from Latvian into English of an eclectic mix of publications of different genres.

One thought on “Opera’s first DVD aims for child audience

  1. I look forward to enjoying this DVD with my grandchildren, as we do the tape of “Gundega.” A Latvian opera for all ages is not a new idea. There are still some of us who remember elaborate, wonderful productions of “Lolitas Brinumputns” at the Great White House many years ago. I was five when I saw the first of them and was totally enchanted. I would like to see it and hear it again, with and without my grandchildren. VKL

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