Sunday, April 22, 2012 for Opera: A Parent/Teacher Guide

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:
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!
Recommended operas/arias to begin with:
  • 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.
For more ideas and suggestions on introducing opera to your children, here are some links that may help:
  • 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!


  1. It's wonderful to see another blog with a passion for literacy (many kinds of literacy). I'm following you now on GFC - would love a follow back when you have a chance.

    I thought I'd share this with you. It's Don Freeman's Lollipop Opera based on Rossilini's Barber of Seville. Enjoy!

  2. What a wonderful delightful and magical post and most informative ~ thanks for signing on for Magical Monday Meme ~ do hope you have posted a linked to my blog ~ enjoy the week ~ thanks, namaste, ^_^

  3. What a great idea introducing kids to opera - and thank you for the suggestions and links...I'm going to check those out for my kidlets! :)

    Scramble Brainy Friends, Dandelion Volcano, Obsessive Song Search… The Usual Mishmash

  4. My parents were opera buffs and always played records on the stereo. I can remember my mother all decked out in her finest, with her opera glasses, heading off to the Queen Elizabeth Theater with my Dad in his best suit. Even as a kid, I liked the music from certain ones, especially Aida and Madame Butterfly. I must admit I never thought about introducing opera into the classroom, but what a wonderful idea! Hope you have an awesome week,

    abcw team

  5. OUTSTANDING OUTLOOK on the OFTEN OUTCAST music, OPERA. Especially, with WB cartoons!
    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

    1. Is there any other way? LOL! The "What's Opera Doc" is still one of my favorites!

  6. Great post! As a retired teacher I very much appreciate the suggestions. Children can benefit in so many aspects from a musical education and appreciation, but it is currently against the public trends. Thanks for visiting!

  7. This is a great resource for homeschool parents ! Thank you!

  8. What a great post! James Bond was a music major in college with a concentration in opera (he has a beautiful voice), so we've been to many performances and listen to it frequently. Indy's favorite opera is Carmen. After we visited Neuschwanstein Castle (much of the decor is based on Wagner's operas), we did a unit study on him (we homeschool) and it was fascinating.
    Thanks for all the links!

  9. New follower from Magical Mouse blog hop! Love your post! My children love music! I try to engage them when I can. Thanks for the article. Stop by and follow me back when you can!

  10. What a useful and informative post. I have just retired from music teaching, and wish I had come across this sooner! I, too, came to love opera as an adult, after going the piano lesson route as a child, and then teaching instrumental music in high schools for more years than I can remember to count. I was especially interested in your comment that opera relays "history, culture and even science." Of course, that is true, but I had never before thought of it in quite that way. Thank you! I would say many of the sites you suggest would be of interest to adults as well.

  11. Love the idea of Opera for the theme!

  12. As am opera lover since I was very young, I particularly loved this post for O day. Carver, ABC Wed. Team

  13. this is very important. it's impossible to love opera without knowing what you are getting into. you need to understand so many aspects. you at least should be familiar with the story and the main arias, so that you can appreciate how well they are sung

    thanks for doing this


  14. my experience of opera is limited to elmer fudge bug & bugs bunny.

  15. You do make me regret that I have no small children around to use your wonderful suggestions to influence then with an appreciation of opera. My children heard classical music constantly, but not so much opera so they are going to have to develop their own passion for it.

    1. Great post, Meryl! Operas are excellent for teaching. As a matter of fact I used musicals when I was teaching English. "My Fair Lady "is an excellent means to teach the British culture. It's based on "Pygmalion"by G.B.Shaw, it's set in London and it is typically English. I copied all the lyrics and every lesson we read one or more songs. My students saw the movies of the musicals. Another favourite was "The Sound of Music".Songs are great stuff to learn a language.
      Thanks for visiting.Have a great week.
      Wil, ABC Team.

  16. I like the ideas of introducing opera to kids. Thanks so much! I'm your newest follower and you can follow me back at:

  17. My children introduced me to opera, perhaps becasue I introduced them to ballet :) My youngest son used to watch class as a toddler and went along to see Swan lake on home-school field trips. He will listen to opera by the hour, and as a teen instigated our trip to see Phantom of the Opera in San Francisco a yew years ago. What a plethora of costumes, in some scenes there was simply too much going on to see all at once.

  18. I have a friend who writes operas. He has a pretty interesting job.

  19. We have a Filipino word opera which means operate. Thanks for the suggestion, I'll look into it.

    O is for....
    Rose, ABC Wednesday Team

  20. My father used to play opera music all the time when I was young, so when I grew up and recognized the tunes, I liked them. I once introduced a bunch of students to opera (mixed high school. It was really quite successful. Prelude to Act 1 of La Traviata is one of my favorite pieces of music -- so sad. In high school, the choir also performed the student version of Il Trovatore -- loved it. Love country and western too and especially Paul Simon. Now THERE'S a poet!

  21. New follower via GFC!

    Valerie @ Intriguing Reads

  22. Even growing up on the remote island of Molokai, my mother made it a point to introduce us to opera. every Saturday, during opera season, she would tune the radio in to "Live From the Met" by Texaco and turn the volume up so that we could hear it both inside and outside as we went about our activities. You have given everyone lots of ways to introduce children to opera.

  23. Meryl, Thanks for all these wonderful ideas!! Music can do so many fabulous things for our children! I'm really loving the Fresh Beat Band lately--it's a children's show that advocates for music, problem solving, group skills, and an active, healthy lifestyle. The main characters are all older teens, but my 5-year old loves them. They had an episode a while ago that made opera look pretty cool, too. :) Thanks for linking up at Teach Me Tuesday!! I'll "see" ya' next week!

  24. Haven't thought about it - but now there is a seed growing. :-) Thanks for the post.
    Come link-up at

  25. Hello.
    I love music, but never been to the opera. My wife loves all classical music. I think it stems from her piano-playing days as a child and from studying Latin too. I enjoyed reading this post. Thanks for sharing.

    Open The Curtains Of Your Heart

  26. Very nice entry!
    Thanks for sharing. And thanks for visiting and taking the time to comment;o)

    Have a great day****

  27. I don't have much experience with the literal sense. I've seen a few "rock operas" but don't know if they really count! I introduced my children to the theater and musicals at a very young age and made sure they experiences those classics. They were the only kids I knew that had seen Le Miserables, Phantom of the Opera and could sing every song in CATS before they were ten!

  28. Hey there I am your newest follower on your blog site would love for you to follow me back :) and also check out my facebook fan page on my site as well as following me on twitter thanks so much for your support also if you can grab my badge to help get me more followers thanks have a great weekend :)


  29. I believe that kids need to have a lot of different "stimulus" to be able to decide what they like based on their own character !! And this is what I try to do with my children! during our lockdown here in Greece, i watched several different performances from greek national opera that hosted several online streaming with many options, like opera, ballet performances, dance performances for children, operetta and my kids enjoyed as much as i did!