The Original Musical: Sharing Opera With the Kids

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Image credit: Patricia Vollmer
From the Opera Theatre of the Rockies dress rehearsal of Mozart’s ‘Cosí Fan Tutti’ on April 7, 2016. Image credit: Patricia Vollmer

I grew up enjoying opera. As a teenager I performed several pieces from numerous operas with my school orchestras. Performing the “Grand March” from Verdi’s Aida, complete with a chorale, is still a vivid memory. In college I had the privilege* of playing in a pit orchestra for Englebert Humperdinck’s** Hansel and Gretel.

*Some might argue that 3 hours of playing isn’t necessarily a privilege, but I actually had quite a bit of fun.

**The German composer, not the English singer who was popular in the 1970s.

I’m thrilled to be able to share my affinity for opera with my kids. My now 11- and 13-year-old sons had a chance to learn about the opera through their respective 4th- and 5th-grade gifted and talented programs. They each have taken field trips to meet the cast and crew of our local opera troupe, and we’ve been to see several showings of Metropolitan Opera in HD performances at our local movie theater.

Two years ago I was able to see Lakmé (by Leo Delibes) with my oldest son through the Opera of the Rockies, and last year we saw Carmen through the Metropolitan Opera in HD. This year my youngest son and I enjoyed Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, which was performed at the Met last weekend, and last week we got tickets to the dress rehearsal for Mozart’s Cosí Fan Tutte through the Opera Theatre of the Rockies.

We had a flyer with a synopsis of each act, as well as information about the cast. The Metropolitan HD simulcasts have something similar available at the theaters. Image credit: Patricia Vollmer
We had a flyer with a synopsis of each act, as well as information about the cast. The Metropolitan HD simulcasts have something similar available at the theaters. Image credit: Patricia Vollmer

Perhaps you are wondering if this is a good idea. Perhaps you have questions and concerns such as these:

  • “Are you crazy, Patricia? Aren’t operas really long? My child isn’t going to sit still for that long!”
  • “How will we understand what they’re saying? Very few operas are in English. In fact, none of the ones you mentioned above are in English.”
  • “I’m not musically inclined. I’m not sure I’m going to enjoy this experience, let alone my child.”
  • “Some of those operas you mentioned above have somewhat mature themes. Wasn’t Carmen a rather provocative character? And I thought Cosí Fan Tutte was about men betting on their girlfriends’ infidelity!”

First of all, I don’t recommend full-fledged operas for anyone younger than about 10 (recognizing that there are some who are younger than 10 who might enjoy this, and some who are older than 10 who may not be able to handle the length of the show or the sometimes-mature themes). Some operas exceed three hours in length, but they have intermissions programmed in for restroom and food breaks.

The superscripting is common at the opera. If your kids can read, they might be able to understand the story pretty well. Image credit: Patricia Vollmer
The superscripting is common at the opera. If your kids can read, they might be able to understand the story pretty well. Image credit: Patricia Vollmer

Regarding the language barrier, perhaps you didn’t realize that live opera performances often have “superscripts.” In other words, the translations to the script are shown line-by-line in a space over the stage.

If your enjoyment concerns are because you aren’t a fan of the music, perhaps you could explore the other things that make an opera magical. With the Metropolitan Opera in HD simulcasts, before and after the show, as well as during the intermissions, the emcee of the broadcast will discuss the behind-the-scenes work that goes into their productions. Maybe your child has a flair for visual art. There are interviews with the set designers and set construction engineers. Does your family prefer the instrumental music to the singing? Maybe interviews with the conductor will be of interest. These are attributes to the HD program that many of the in-person attendees don’t get to experience. Perhaps you can get to see a “reboot” of a popular opera where the settings and costumes are re-imagined for a more-modern time. If you’re a fan of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo+Juliet or Wise and Robbins’s West Side Story, you’ve seen something like this before. In last year’s Metropolitan Opera production of Carmen, we saw a version that was revised forward 100 years to take place during the Spanish Civil War.

Many of the better-known operas tend to have more mature themes, such as sex, death, violence, and blackmail. If you are comfortable taking your children to movies such as The Avengers, Star Wars, and Star Trek, you probably are okay having honest conversations about some of the storylines in operas.

Hopefully I’ve inspired you to expose your kids to the opera. See if your community has opera performances. Even if there isn’t a professional opera company, your local college or university might put on shows as part of the students’ coursework.

If there isn’t a live performance nearby, check out the Metropolitan Opera’s website to see if there are live simulcasts at a theater near you. Even if you can’t necessarily make it to a live performance, the Met offers encore performances of each of their shows.

Have you taken your kids to the opera? Share with us which ones you’ve seen together!

 

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