I haven’t seen this many baldies at the opera since…well, the last time I went to the opera. The audience at BambinO, however, are considerably younger than your standard follicly-challenged opera crowd. 6-18 months-old, in fact, because this is something rather special: a contemporary opera created with babies in mind.
BambinO, a collaboration between Scottish Opera, the Manchester International Festival and theatre company Improbable, tells the story of a bird, Uccellina (Charlotte Hoather), who finds an egg and raises the chick that hatches from it, Pulcino (Timothy Connor), as her own, before bidding him farewell when it’s time for him to leave the nest. Lliam Paterson’s libretto blends bird noises with a few choice words in Italian, but the storytelling is primarily a visual affair, director Phelim McDermott revealing a real understanding of what babies need in live performance.
The piece is staged almost in the round, and with crawling babes welcome to explore the playing space, BambinO has an almost interactive quality to it. Hoather and Connor are unfazed by the ongoing infantile stage invasion, directly engaging with audience members keen to hit, dribble on and roll around Giuseppe Belli and Emma Belli’s sparse, cushion-covered set. This level of interaction is no mean feat considering the complexity of Paterson’s music – this may be an opera for babies but there’s nothing childish about what Paterson has achieved here. With often abstract vocal lines maintaining a lively conversation with atmospheric instrumental accompaniment from cellist Laura Sergeant and percussionist Stuart Semple, BambinO is a delight not just for its intended audience, but for their grown-ups too. Small, yes, but perfectly formed.