In Curtain Up!, aimed at 6-to-8-year-olds, publishers Thames Hudson have teamed up with The Royal Opera House and illustrator Lauren O’Hara, perhaps best known for her work on Sophie Dahl’s children’s book Madame Badobedah, to give youngsters a tour behind the scenes on opening night of The Nutcracker.
Beautifully produced, it opens up those usually hidden sights and sounds of the theatre in a wonderfully accessible, friendly way, O’Hara’s wonderful illustrations bring everything to life. She’s especially good at faces, eyes in particular.
Guided by Figaro, the theatre’s resident cat, readers are introduced to the many departments and people working to make the performance a success.
There’s just a couple of pages for each department, but then there is only thirty minutes to the start of the show, and there’s a lot of people to meet. The text is cleverly divided up into little nuggets of information that sit happily among O’Hara’s super illustrations. The layout also means the book can easily be dipped in and out of.
Although there is the odd word that a friendly grown-up will probably need to explain (there’s a handy four-page glossary just in case they are stumped too), the text is generally pitched about right and there are some interesting facts slipped in along the way. In the costume department, for example, we learn that it takes a massive 60m of net fabric to make a tutu like that worn by the Sugar Plum Fairy. A Romantic tutu has just 23m of tulle, on the other hand.
Although it maybe just before the curtain rises on The Nutcracker, there are plenty of references to and examples from other key ballets and opera as we move through the departments.
After visiting costumes, wigs and hats, the shoe room, scenery and props, we find ourselves in the armoury where, as we are warned, “there are some sharp points!” It’s here we find out what the ‘Twyla’ is, something I suspect not many adult readers will know, even those with good ballet knowledge. It’s nothing to do with choreographer Twyla Tharp but a sequence of eight standard movements in which the sword arm is moved in stage fights.
From there, Figaro’s tour drops in on the ballet studios, music and opera rehearsal rooms, before reaching the orchestra pit, where readers are taken through the different sections. Then there’s just time for a quick trip backstage, a brief synopsis of the ballet, before it’s time to settle down for the show.
No doubt the odd thing has had to be omitted, but Curtain Up! packs a lot into its 40 pages and provides a super insight for young people (and quite possibly their grown-ups) into the world of ballet and opera.
Curtain Up!: Behind the Scenes at the Royal Opera House
Publisher: Thames & Hudson Ltd
Published: September 1, 2022
Dimensions : 25.4 x 1.27 x 30.23 cm
Cover price: £12.99