23/09/2014 11:54 BST | Updated 20/05/2015 06:12 BST

Take Your Toddler To The Opera. Really?

Interior of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London. The home of the Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet, the Royal Opera House was designed by Edward Middleton Barry and built in the 1850s. It is the third theatre to have stood on the Covent Garden site, the previous two having been destroyed by fire. The building underwent a major reconstructon, at a cost of ú220 million, in the 1990s.

Have you ever thought about taking your toddler to the opera? No? Shame on you. It's the new must-have experience for today's two-year-old.

Yes, the Royal Opera House may be 282 years old – but it's trying to find itself a new generation of music-lovers.

It's producing 'toddler-friendly' new work such as 'Dot, Squiggle, and Rest' alongside more traditional fare such as Puccini's 'La Boheme'.

There'll be dance, puppetry and animation with this toddler-friendly opera, which all sounds rather jolly. But seriously. How middle class do you have to BE to take your children to the opera?

Just to make it clear - I'm not some kind of class warrior. My parents were middle class to the core. They dragged us around endless ancient monuments and subjected us to hours of feet-aching tedium as we trailed around art galleries. But even they weren't foolhardy enough to attempt to take us to the opera.

But according to the Royal Opera House, there has been 'strong demand' for productions aimed at young children. I bet there has.

As parents, we're becoming increasingly obsessed with one-upmanship. French lessons aren't good enough any more. We want our three-year-olds to be learning Mandarin. Ballet is old hat – it's got to be ballroom dancing so they can pretend they're in Strictly. Fish fingers are pooh-poohed in favour of sushi. And now we have to take them to the opera as well?

Come on. Is it really worth taking a two-year-old to the opera? Last Christmas, our two-year-old couldn't sit still through her own sister's nativity play. She's not a particularly badly behaved child. She's just TWO.

The best you can hope for is that your toddler would fall asleep. The worst? Well, I'm sure you can imagine... Screaming; running around; demanding food; nappies that need changing; running onto the stage. While the other middle-class parents sit around tutting about your child's unruly behaviour.

Yes, it may well be toddler-friendly, and if yours is misbehaving, a number of others will be too. But will it be a hugely enriching cultural experience? I doubt it. Will your child love it? They might. But they'd probably prefer a trip to the park.


Is toddler opera really for the benefit of toddlers, or for the benefit of parents who can feel suitably smug about their wonderful, culturally rich parenting?


I admit, there are temptations. Some children's theatre sounds wonderful. I myself have been seduced by the idea of it. I did take my children, then four and one, to a children's theatre group once. The four-year-old was terrified and wanted to leave. The one-year-old spent the entire time running around shrieking. The most fun they had was when the performance ended and they could run around the school hall without anybody bothering them by pretending to be wolves.

And opera is another step towards crazy. I know what you're going to say – what the Royal Opera House is offering is an interactive, engaging experience tailored for toddlers. Well, that's lovely. But that isn't actually opera. Dance, puppetry, and animation are not part of the typical opera experience. How disappointed are these children going to be when they go to the opera for real and are subjected to several hours of warbling in a foreign language?

I have, actually, been to the opera. I went of my own accord, once in Budapest, and once in Vienna. It was all right. I don't feel the urge to go again. If it's your bag, by all means, try to persuade your children that it's a wonderful experience. Good luck with that.

You could even try playing them opera in the car; I'm not averse to a bit of brainwashing, as my daughters' love of Nirvana testifies. But please, please, don't boast about taking them to the Royal Opera House. Tell me about their Mandarin lessons instead.

What do you think?

21st Century Parenting