Title

Beyond the Wall An opera for children in 2 acts –and– Toward a more engaging operatic genre for children An exegesis

Date of Award

2018

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA)

First Advisor

Dr Lyndall Adams

Second Advisor

Associate Professor Jonathan Paget

Third Advisor

Dr Lindsay Vickery

Abstract

Toward a more engaging operatic genre for children is a practice-led PhD research project which aimed to create a more engaging opera for children aged 4-13 (Australian Kindergarten to year 7) than current Australian company approaches to young audience repertoire. The culmination of this research was the children’s chamber opera Beyond the Wall, presented in workshop form at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), Edith Cowan University in December 2017.

Current house repertoire offered for a young Australian audience overwhelmingly involves the adaptation of an existing adult opera, generally presented in school touring incursion programs; an approach lacking effectiveness on many levels. The paucity of work performed in quality in-house theatrical venues determines that children are rarely exposed to opera at its most impressive musically or theatrically, whilst additionally relinquishing the positive artsgoing habitus influence many children experience when attending works with their family members, particularly their parents.

Practice-led research (PLR) methodology was identified as the most appropriate to the varied and interdisciplinary features characteristic to opera as an artform. As such, several writing and compositional methods were identified from various sources, and adapted to meet the requirements of an operatic libretto and score. These methods included those adapted from screenwriting, theatre for young audience literature, the development of many process cycles facilitating effective praxis, and the extensive use of reflective journaling in written and voice memo forms. These methods were supported by a robust conceptual and theoretical framework, prioritising the development of a child-centric perspective for adult writers creating work for children. This child-centric mandate or child’s gaze focused on three key areas of literature, theory and practice surrounding the broader dramatic and musical concepts of relevance, appeal and comprehension for children.

Some of the key components to the success of this child-centred approach was the understanding of emotive psychological undercurrents of effective stories for child audiences, as well as the ability to develop and maintain children’s identification with the main character. Necessitating an insightful construction of the protagonist’s universe within the libretto, it also required thoughtful reflection on how the musical score reinvented and heightened the dramatic impact of the text and story themes. Additionally, an understanding of movement between realistic speech styles and heightened operatic styles of singing was essential to the development of effective musico-dramatic devices, such as spoken word/recitative/Sprechstimme vocalisation sections. Presenting greater variation in vocalisation styles than more traditional forms of opera, these devices aided in the more effective engagement of the workshop audience with both the sound-world of the opera and audience identification with the main child protagonist.

The successful workshop reception of Beyond the Wall within a culture that has very few operatic works specially devised for young audiences, challenges the prevailing view that children are incapable of engagement with the heightened emotional world of opera. The many innovative methodological tools developed to aid in the research and development additionally present valuable additions to practice-led research composition literature, whilst presenting broader solutions to composers and writers within this fledgling genre.

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