Opera (English plural: operas; Italian plural: opere) is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining text (called a libretto) and musical score, usually in a theatrical setting. (From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opera)I was raised more on "program music" (a form of music which relays a story/narrative through music - Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, for example - more about this next week) than on opera, but have learned to enjoy and appreciate the latter as an adult. As a parent though, I decided to introduce opera to my kids - when they were kids, in the hope of expanding and enriching their horizons.
Their exposure and appreciation of opera was further reinforced in their pre-teens when studying "History of Disease" at Johns Hopkins University Center for Tale ted Youth (CTY) one summer. This was an extraordinary course that studied disease and its impact on and influence upon culture. They learned that opera is not just music - it is an art form that reflects and relays history, culture and even science (in this CTY course, "science" relayed the forms, function and devastation of TB - tuberculosis) and how the impact of this disease reverberated through history and art. They were hooked!
Why introduce opera to kids: Opera is an interactive story-telling format that incorporates multiple presentation modes. It allows kids of all types of learning styles, learning strengths and learning weaknesses to better incorporate, practice, and understand the art of story-telling. It is also a window into past and present histories and cultures, that not only teachers story-telling, but histories as well.
How to introduce opera to your kids:
- Play a CD, DVD, or online link of selected parts of operas. I would first play it to them as young kids while in the bath (let them swish to the music), in the car, or on a rainy day. Ask them what the music feels like to them.
- Play select parts or whole operas and dance or march to the music. Talk about how the music 'builds' story and tension, emotions, colors, story, and energy.
- As your children get older, read about and explain the opera's story outline and ask them what part of the story the music might be relaying. There are also book versions of many operas - read them and then listen/watch the opera. Put on puppet productions. Talk about the music, mood, costumes, settings, messages.
- Looney Tunes Golden Collection and Bugs Bunny are EXCELLENT vehicles for opera appreciation with kids - we still love these versions!
- 1957 Looney Tunes "What's Opera Doc" - begins with Elmer Fudd dressed as the demigod Siegfried looking to "kill da wabbit" which is put to song through the themes and motifs of Richard Wagner's Der Ring Des Nibelungen and Tannhauser and borrows from his second opera Die Walkure as well.
- 1950 Looney Tunes "Rabbit of Seville" has Elmer Fudd pursuiing Bugs Bunny again. Through a turn of events, Bugs becomes the Barber of Seville and torments Elmer in ways only Bugs can. Here is an YouTube excerpt:
- 1949 Looney Tunes "Long-Haired Hare" in which Bugs' banjo playing is constantly interrupted by his neighbor's (Giovani Jones') opera singing which "of course, you know this means war..." They end up at the Hollywood Bowl with Bugs impersonating the great conductor Leopold Stokowski and opera classics performed include "Largo al Factotum" from The Barber of Seville.
- Mozart's The Magic Flute - poor Pamina is thrown into a world of magic and confusion. The music is outstanding and you can easily hear how the different 'voices' reflect the different characters. You might want to compare Pamina's world of magic to Harry Potter's.
- Aida's Grand March - here is a great clip of the Grand Triumphal March from the Metropolitan Opera - a feat of music and staging:
- Puccini's La Boheme, Rossini's The Barber of Seville, and Bizet's Carmen are also excellent introductory operas.
- Opera for Children - overall resource with excellent links.
- Opera for Everyone - downloadable CD's for popular operas (The Barber of Seville, La Traviata, Carmen, and Madam Butterfly) with optional teacher manuals and instructions for setup.
- Opera for Beginners - with instructions/suggestions on how to listen and appreciate opera. They recommend starting with two of Puccini's masterpieces La Boheme and Madam Butterfly - full of arias and duets with melodies simple enough to hum after a few brief 'listens'. They also recommend which recordings/DVD's to get.
- Opera Study Guides - put out by the Manitoba Opera, this site has study guides, composer bios, opera synopses, and suggested books and articles for further reading.
- Classics for Kids - Puccini
- Classics for Kids - Bizet
- Classics for Kids - Mozart
- Classics for Kids - Rossini
- Interactive "Create Your Own Opera: Hansel and Gretel"- with overture and animated acts. You feel like you have a front-row seat at a very cool (English) opera/video game. There is a narrator who describes the music in simple terms, directing listeners to listen for dance music, various mood and 'color' changes, energy, motion, and a cello melody suggesting night in the forest. In each act you can assume various roles essential for opera production such as costume designer, choreographer, set designer, prop manager, and lighting director - all while you follow the words to the music.
- A Brief History of Opera by Deanna R. Hoying, Director of Education, Kentucky Opera
- Opera History - history of opera, composers, singers and music
- A Brief History of Opera from Opera America
What are your experiences with opera and with introducing opera to children? Please share them in the comments.
Have a great week and thanks for visiting!