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In the Opera

By Raphy L, Year


Lately, I have been taking on an arduous, however hectic and wonderful adventure. I have been in the Royal Opera House, performing in the Children’s Chorus, in a breathtaking production of Giacamo Puccini’s Turandot.

The opera is set in ancient China, where Princess Turandot, who has sworn to never be in a romantic relationship, sets three riddles; whoever can answer them all correctly can marry her. The alternative outcome is death. These riddles are difficult, and many have failed. Including the Prince of Persia, who gets his head chopped off, by Pu-Tin-Pao the executioner, in the opening scene of the show. Nonetheless, Prince Calaf, the Unknown Prince, is ready for the challenge. Ping, Pang and Pong, three politicians, are trying to get him to change his thinking, as it is a colossal risk. They fail though, and Calaf strikes the gong, signalling the start of an intense session.

Calaf comes away victorious, miraculously. Despite this, Turandot has been trying to get out of this calamity, as she sees it, but Emperor Altoum remains firm. Because of this, Calaf decides to give the princess a second chance; he gives Turandot a riddle; if she can find out Calaf’s name by dawn, he will be executed.

Turandot then orders that no-one may sleep that night until the Prince’s name is discovered. Calaf’s slave, Liu, announces that she knows his name but refuses to say it. Turandot sends her to be tortured until she reveals Calaf’s name. Liu next kills herself as she states that she’d rather die.

After this, the pivotal moment in the opera; Turandot and Calaf begin to fall in love. So Calaf exposes his name. Turandot summons Emperor Atoum and as Calaf is about to stab himself, Turandot exclaims to her father that the Unknown Prince's name is Love. Calaf puts the dagger down.

The opera has an extensive variety of music, with calming choruses to powerful arias. This is one of many reasons why this ‘fable’ (as described by Puccini) has taken over my brain, with the music invariably playing in my mind. My fellow singers and I are perpetually insistent to visit the monitor and watch Nessun Dorma, arguably the most well-known aria in the opera world. We just can’t miss it! Furthermore, the staging is dazzling in this production. The scenery is constantly decorated with an eruption of colour, energy and movement (reflecting the Chinese setting.) The ballet dancers and actors are a key part, as they are essential to take the expression of emotion to the next level.

I also love the atmosphere while on stage, plus the view of the enormous, beautiful auditorium as well.

All of this has been down to me being a member of the Youth Opera Company, which is a programme for children aged 9-13, and kids can learn and perform on stage. Right now, we are composing our own opera with Jonathan Brigg, a versatile composer and conductor. I have a whole group of friends there, and I am frequently having a laugh with them. This also teaches me about other cultures.

People in YOC come from all over London, and in my Turandot group, there are Muslims, Hindus, Orthodox and Catholic Christians. One of my friends broke their Ramadan fast in the dressing room during the show. I ate matzah whilst another mate of mine and orthodox christian kept his cross on even with his costume on.

Another special experience was working with the people behind the scenes. My personal favourite, Director of Music of the Royal Opera House since 2002, Sir Antonio Pappano. He has conducted Puccini operas many times, but intriguingly, not until now has he ever conducted Turandot. Pappano is very keen on the idea of the Youth Opera Company, and is eager to get us into more productions. He will leave the Royal Opera House for the London Symphony Orchestra at the end of this season, which will be a deeply emotional farewell.

I have enjoyed the experience of learning from the stage directors, as they have introduced me to further ways of acting. Pre-Performance, they come to our changing room, to say Toi Toi Toi (which basically means good luck for opera) and to give us some notes on what to improve on.

I was singing in Italian, so my chorus had a coach to improve our pronunciations. For example, a softer ‘t’ or a rolled r would be required.

Later on this year, I will take part in an off-stage role in Jules Massenet’s Werther, in a children’s chorus again, performing 6 nights, opposed to 12 with Turandot.

My experiences have been full of excitement, yet I practically live in Covent Garden these days! I highly recommend this to any music-lover.


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