Let’s talk about the other highlights of opera! Last post we discussed recitative and aria. There are some other major components to look at before heading confidently into a full length opera.
The first part to examine is simultaneous singing (duets, trios, quartets, etc.). Nobody gives a better explanation than Leonard Bernstein, so check him out on the subject! Next listen a famous piece: this is the The Flower Duet from Lamke. You can even hear a chicken and a cat cluck and meow this famous duet about girls picking flowers, if you are in the mood for something silly.
When we add all of the ensemble together for big numbers we get some very exciting opera choruses. My favorite chorus, and always a big hit with kids, is The Anvil Chorus from Verdi’s opera Il Travatore. Get a couple of toy hammers or wooden blocks to bang along to the sound of the anvils is this one. It is about the joys of life after a hard day’s work! The Marx Brothers used this chorus in several hilarious movie scenes. Other great opera choruses to listen to are the vocally heavy Ghost Sailor’s Chorus from The Flying Dutchman and the lighter Puccini’s Humming Chorus from Madam Butterfly.
Finally, we get to the beginning! I am talking about the Overture. This is the big orchestral moment the sets the stage for the opera, before any singing is done. Richard Wagner’s Overture to his opera The Flying Dutchman is exciting and probably recognizable. The Overture to Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro is delightful. Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld Overture is great listening all by itself. Overtures might be my favorite part of an opera!
It is great to read the opera stories to know the plot. Two great books are Sing Me a Story: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories and The Random House Book of Opera Stories for Children. Start with a story from these books before you listen to an opera. Remember to read the lyrics to each piece in English as you are listening.
And then, after we have examined the many pieces that make up opera, it is time to see a full length show! Performances designed specifically for children are usually shorter and allow kids to meet the cast afterward. Some operas are written with children in mind such as Hansel and Gretel. Cendrillon is a good choice because they know the familiar Cinderella storyline. I have found that children love The Barber of Seville for the music and comedy. But Mozart’s The Magic Flute is the all around best choice. It is entertaining, keeps the kids guessing, has great costumes, and very engaging music.
If you can’t find a live performance with student rush tickets, cheap balcony seats, or matinee shows, there are some visually stunning recorded performances. Nothing adds to the fun more than opera glasses or binoculars. Some Metropolitan Opera productions play at movie theaters! Libraries have lots of different operas on DVD.
And there is no need to play an opera video all the way through. Take it in chunks or let it be background to coloring or building with Legos. Many opera houses have put themed coloring sheets on line to print and decorate while listening. Whatever you do, please do listen! The complexity may be a welcome change from the super simple pop offerings. Or it may be a taste that needs some exposure to acquire. Give it some time and try a few different composers and operas. When you find a hit, give it a good listen and enjoy!
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