Two distinct groups known for their way with high-pitched sounds — babies and opera — come together this week in St. Paul.
“NOOMA,” a new opera for babies (yes, for babies), will be performed at 10 and 11:15 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday during the Flint Hills Family Festival at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts.
The work was co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall, San Francisco Opera and Minnesota Opera. “NOOMA” received its world premiere at Carnegie Hall on April 26 and receives its Midwest premiere here.
Minnesota Opera’s chief learning officer Jamie Andrews says part of the creative quality of “NOOMA” is “it takes in mind what we understand about brain development of kids this age.”
“There’s more activity in Europe around this for whatever reason,” Andrews says, but this is the second opera for babies that Carnegie Hall has produced.
It was composed specifically with children ages 0-2 and uses parachutes for props. Parachute movements become metaphors for breathing and “NOOMA” is a play on the ancient Greek word “‘pneuma,’ meaning both breath and spirit or soul,” according to a Minnesota Opera news release.
Opera for babies makes its Midwest debut in St. Paul. (Photo by Richard Termine)
The opera has three characters that roughly follow three seasons, Andrews says. The three actors face some special challenges performing for a crawling, wobbling free-range crowd (and their parents).
“The performers know the babies might be touching them or blocking their way on a exit,” Andrews says. “They have to be flexible.”
“Really, the fourth performers in the pieces are the babies,” he adds. “Every performance is different.
“It makes it remarkable.”
The other Flint Hills Festival performances are geared to older, school-age children, says the Ordway’s Dayna Martinez, coordinator of the festival.
Admission to “NOOMA” is limited to 50 babies and their parents or guardians.
And, yes, Andrews laughs, there are bound to be people who consider this an extreme move in cultivating a younger audience for the classical music art form.
“It speaks to the company’s larger ambition of singing every story.”
What: a new opera for babies (yes, for babies)
Where: Drake Room at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, 345 Washington St., St. Paul
When: 10 and 11:15 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday
Tickets: $8; 651-224-4222 or ordway.org/nooma