Think of the children in opera. Not knowing sopranos and mezzos, pigtailed and pinafored or tightly trousered-up to look child-like, but actual children. There are Mozart’s Three Boys, Menotti’s Amahl, possibly Debussy’s Yniold and Handel’s Oberto and, if you stretch a point, Marie’s little son in Wozzeck. But that’s about it. Until, that is, you come to Benjamin Britten.
It’s a rare Britten opera that doesn’t include a child. Whether it’s Grimes’s doomed apprentice, the chattering powder monkeys of HMS Indomitable, teenage vision Tadzio in Death in Venice, Tytania’s fairies or the watchful Miles and Flora, they are ever-present, but why? There’s something about innocence, certainly, but it’s interesting just how often Britten muddies their symbolism, swapping simple purity for something altogether murkier.