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BY Xavier Pujol
Head of the Educational Service of the Gran Teatre del Liceu

In 1982, once the Consortium of the Gran Teatre del Liceu was up and running, a number of educational activities were set in train with the aim of making opera more accessible to schoolchildren. The most important of these activities were guided tours of the building which enabled some 120,000 school students to visit the theatre between 1982 and 1994.

The fire that destroyed the Liceu building in January 1994 obviously affected the educational activities which had taken place there and they were substantially curtailed in just the same way as artistic activity in general. Nevertheless, an attempt was made to keep at least some educational activity going and a big effort was made to bring school groups to see the dress rehearsals for the operas staged at the Teatre Vict˛ria while the Liceu was being rebuilt.

In 1998, the major legal, financial and technical hurdles having finally been overcome, the reconstruction of the Liceu entered its final stage. With the Liceu now under public ownership, the theatre management was aware of the responsibility this entailed and the social obligations flowing from it. So it decided not simply to resume the educational activities that had been going on before the fire, but to extend them and introduce new ones. It therefore set up a specific service for this purpose, the Educational Service, bringing under one department reporting to the theatre's artistic management activities which had previously been spread over several departments.

The Liceu's Educational Service as now conceived has a dual mission: on the one hand, to bring the younger element in our society into contact with the art of opera, either through the school or the family, in a way that they can understand; and on the other, to disseminate knowledge of the Liceu among this same sector of society, presenting it as an important item of their cultural heritage.

The intention behind both these objectives is to broaden the base of people in support of the Liceu, which is one of the basic conditions for gaining social legitimacy for a cultural institution that consumes a relatively large slice of public resources.

To achieve these goals, the Educational Service operates along four lines of action. The first, which was already under way while rebuilding was going on, consists in taking advantage of the opera house's regular productions that are not specifically aimed at a young audience and using them for teaching purposes. Concretely, this involves arranging for parties of schoolchildren to attend the dress rehearsals of the operas being staged.

Attendance at these operas has to be arranged through the schools in groups accompanied by teachers, as only teachers are in a position to judge whether what is on offer is suitable for their pupils and whether they will be able to understand it. Operas are often extremely complex cultural products stemming from a long tradition and depend for their comprehension on the ability to interpret highly sophisticated codes. While the opera house was being reconstructed, attendance at dress rehearsals was confined mainly to secondary school students. In the future, however, as new activities targeting this age group are set up, invitations will gradually be redirected to young people, such as music or drama students, who are more likely to have a strong initial motivation to attend a full-length, conventional operatic performance.

The second line of action consists in creating an artistic season specifically aimed at a young audience including works whose characteristics and format suit the needs and possibilities of such a group. So far the range available is rather limited, although the intention is to broaden it out. The programme will begin next season in the theatre foyer with a puppet production of Pergolesi's opera La Serva Padrona, of which there will be 12 performances for schools and six for families, and three Petits Concerts given by the theatre's resident singers and musicians.

The third line of action is the most ambitious from an educational point of view. It consists in getting young people to play an active role in the artistic creation process, essentially getting them to come up on stage. The scope, expenditure and organisational complexity involved in such a venture are beyond the theatre's capacity to tackle on its own. That is why the Liceu is participating in the "Ďpera a SecundÓria" (Opera to Secondary Schools) project alongside the Barcelona Municipal Education Institute and the Barcelona Centre for Contemporary Culture. The idea is for pupils from schools in Barcelona interested in this educational experiment to take part in performing a contemporary opera specially conceived for this purpose.

This project will get under way next season with the opera Eco written by the composer Philippe Vallet. It will inherit, and continue, the arrangement that allowed different institutions to work together during the 1997-98 and 1998-99 seasons on the first ever production in Spain of Hans Krßsa's opera Brundibßr, enabling 1,500 Barcelona schoolchildren to perform in the chorus of this opera.

Lastly, the Educational Service's fourth line of action consists in creating all the teaching and learning materials required for teachers and students to get the greatest possible educational benefit from the other three lines described above. During the 1997-98 and 1998-99 seasons, teaching packs for teachers and programmes and educational materials specially designed for pupils have been prepared. Also along the same lines, joint work has begun with the Catalan Education Department's Educational IT Programme which has so far produced two CD-ROMs designed to provide youngsters with an easily understandable and pleasant introduction to two operas from the grand repertoire that were performed during the Gran Teatre del Liceu's 1988-99 season: Norma and The Magic Flute.