The children opera productions of the Budapest Festival Orchestra not only acquaint children with the beauty of music, they involve them in playing too, gifting them the joy of playing music together.
Over the past few years, an opera for children or younger audiences has become part of the BFO’s season curtain-raiser. Noye’s Fludde by Benjamin Britten and Hans Krása’s Brundibár were followed last season by Der Jasager (The Yes Sayer), a school opera by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht. In September 2015, the orchestra will present another work by Britten to its young audience in the Liszt Academy’s beautiful and recently refurbished small hall, the Solti Hall, which is perfect for chamber opera productions.
Britten composed several educational works with the young in mind. The Little Sweep is the third part of the ‘Let’s Make an Opera!’ series, all written for children. The story takes place in 1810. Librettist Eric Crozier used William Blake’s poem ‘The Chimney Sweeper’ as his inspiration:
When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue
Could scarcely cry ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep!
So your chimneys I sweep, and in soot I sleep.
Cheerful as the prevailing tone of Britten’s opera for children may be, the work tells the story of eight-year-old Sam with sympathy and pity. A brutal chimney sweep sends the boy into a fireplace to clean the chimney. Sam gets stuck in the chimney-stack, but children come to his rescue. They hide him and help him escape from his evil master. Dickens, too, used the tale of the little sweep more than once.
The piece is performed by eleven amateur and professional singers, accompanied by a minimal instrumental ensemble. The audience is an active part of the production: the composer and librettist included four easy-to-learn songs for children in the auditorium.