When you read an opera review, how often does the child performer receive more than a glancing mention? How many times have you scanned the cast list and alighted on the child performer’s name with excitement? Can you name more than a handful of roles for children in opera? Australian academic Dr Andrew Sutherland’s Children in Operaaims to redress the lack of acknowledgement children’s contribution to the art form has received, arguing that their importance has been largely disregarded since opera’s very inception.

Children in Opera

Known to Australian audiences as the founder of Perth’s Giovanni Consort and through his appearances with ensembles like The Song Company and West Australian Symphony Orchestra, Sutherland’s research has been shaped by an interest in music performance by young people. That work seems to culminate in this compelling, well-researched book, a musicological survey of over 100 operas that include children.

Tracing the development of children’s participation in opera, Sutherland reveals how composers’ attitudes toward children have gradually but surely changed over time, reflecting in turn the changing concept of the child in society. He asserts...