My Dad was an architect. When he worked on building plans and designs in his home office, he would play very loud music – mainly jazz – but in-between Dave Brubeck’s "Take Five" and Ella Fitzgerald’s "Mack the Knife," he would play opera.
My bedroom was right beside his studio, so I could not escape his music choices. But I have happy memories of falling asleep while listening to Wagner’s overture to "Tannhäuser" and being awoken in the morning with the "Flight of the Valkyries."
I became familiar with a variety of opera arias and duets, which I still enjoy today, and I've passed my love for opera on to my kids. I play it loud just like my Dad while I’m working in my pottery studio. And yes, my kids can hear it in their bedrooms, too.
I've been able to take my kids to several live opera performances and they have enjoyed each one. When you take your child to the opera, you're opening up a world of high musical drama, grand sets, costumes, strong emotions, and excitement. There are so many diverse elements in a single operatic production that there's guaranteed to be something of interest for everyone in the family. Here are some tips that I've learned that will help you get your kids prepared for attending a live opera performance.
The more your family listens to the music, the more they will enjoy the performance. Most operas are in a foreign language, so it’s important to learn the basic storyline first. Operas feature melodic arias (solos) with musical dialogue (recitatives) between the singers, as well as an opera chorus. Listen to opera recordings so you can hear these differences and also hear the instruments playing in the orchestra.
A good idea is to watch a recording of the opera on DVD before you attend a live performance. This will help you understand how the music relates to the storyline. An excellent book to read with your child is "Sing me a Story: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children" by Jane Rosenberg. This book contains synopses of the greatest operas and gives a good understanding of plot, scene, and character as well as creating excitement with wonderful illustrations.
Now don’t just sit and listen! There’s music in every opera that will make any child want to get up and dance around the room. So, get up and move! Flutter like butterflies while listening to "Humming Chorus" from "Madame Butterfly." Or pretend to be a matador while listening to the "Toreador Song" from "Carmen." The can-can or “Galop Infernal” in Act II of "Orpheus in the Underworld" by Offenbach will get your child jumping around the room doing high kicks.
The very first opera that I attended with my Dad was Puccini’s "Tosca." Unfortunately, he did not prepare me for the performance, so I was quite confused. Tosca is a tragic opera with scenes of torture, a stabbing, and an execution. Definitely not an opera for a child. I survived, but I would not recommend Tosca as a first choice.
A good opera for children to begin with is "The Magic Flute" by Wolfgang Mozart. It's a magical, fairy tale opera that tells the story of Prince Tamino who receives a magic flute from the Queen of the Night and sets out to rescue the queen’s daughter, Pamina.
As well as the magic flute, there are also magic bells, spirits, and wild dancing animals. One favorite character is Papegeno who is half-man, half-bird and sings the famous bird catcher song that your kids will be humming for days. An excellent book to read is "The Magic Flute" by Anne Gatti, which contains colorful illustrations with an accompanying audio CD.
Another popular opera by Mozart is "The Marriage of Figaro." It's a comedy, and your children will be entranced by the beautiful period costumes and the big set of a palace. It has a fascinating plot, featuring disguise and trickery. It's light and humorous with a happy ending of love and forgiveness. Its most famous aria, “Non Piu Andrai,” is a popular hummable melody.
Two other masterpieces to investigate are Puccini’s "La Boheme" and "Madame Butterfly." Both are full of wonderful melodic arias and duets that are easy to remember and hum afterwards.
Matinee shows tend to be the best time to take children to an opera, as they are less formal. They're also in the middle of the afternoon, which does not conflict with dinnertime or bedtime. It’s a good idea to arrive at least 30 minutes before a performance. This way you can get settled in your seats and have time to find the coatroom and restroom.
If you have them, bring opera glasses. Also known as theater binoculars, they will add excitement to the performance and give a better view of costume details and facial expressions of the singers on the stage. Some theaters even rent opera glasses before show time.
By exploring the world of opera, your child will receive an enriching experience that will enhance their appreciation for the arts, as well as stimulating their imagination. Take time for opera and make it a part of your family’s life!