Even under “normal” circumstances, children have very little control over their worlds, but even less so now when they are home all the time with the constant and exclusive supervision of their in-house adult(s). The arts present an opportunity for children to lead, because there is no right or wrong, only discovery.
Studies have shown the correlation between the arts and neuroscience; we have all heard numerous arguments about the arts being important for our child’s overall development. Why opera of all the arts? Opera is full of challenging themes and foreign languages, but at its core it is also a complete, immersive art experience, uniting all expressive disciplines to create one over-the-top virtuosic game of make-believe. If you break it down into each of its parts – story, song, music, costumes and dance – you will find yourself speaking the language of children: you are in imaginative play at the grandest, most virtuosic level.
Children Operate on an Operatic Scale
Watch children in tantrum or glee. Their voices peak, plummet and soar. Their feet pound, kick and leap. They draw their feelings in pictures, scribbles and vibrant color. Children live out their daily lives quite naturally on an operatic scale. It is their job when they are young to try to understand what it means to be human, what it is to build relationships, make discoveries, feel feelings. This is opera’s area of expertise. Words are insufficient to contain and communicate the depth and breadth of the human experience. As adults, we turn to song, dance and visuals as outlets and reflections of our complex emotions. By teaching children to do the same, we are providing them with invaluable tools for communication.
Channel Their Passion
The pluridisciplinary nature of opera means that it engages multiple skills at once. Perhaps your children haven’t found their preferred mode of self-expression. Well, they are sure to find something in opera, which has exhibited everything from trumpets to theorbos, and baroque dance to krumping. While music, dance and design are some of the more obvious skills developed in opera, some more elusive ones include communication, listening, creative problem solving, empathy, confidence and resourcefulness. Opera is also a prime model for collaboration, with each artist working in a particular discipline toward a common goal, envisioning worlds and bringing them into reality. Through classes, workshops and books, children can witness the incredibly hard work and dedication that each artist puts into a trade, not only inspiring children to work hard to excel in their own passion, but also to have a greater appreciation for any art they consume in the future.
Connect to the World
Opera stories may seem complex and full of difficult themes, but their glorious musical wrapping makes these themes less intimidating. They are frequently recognizable tales from literature, history, religion and mythology. Stories like Leonore, Caesar and La Susanna inspire children’s sense of justice, hope and love on a global scale, making future advocates for peace, diplomats, policy makers or experts in international affairs. Unpacking these stories with children empowers them to express their voice and think critically. You can use the stories to segue into every other topic imaginable: history, geography, trade, family, psychology, etc. You may think you are talking about art, but before you know it, you are talking about all of life.
The intensity of opera stories and the drama of the artistry bring out children’s inner passions. Discussions around the stories and exposure to the discipline for each art form teach children how to direct those passions. Opera stories and studies can influence what children choose to do with their lives and how they choose to live, making the connection between action and impact. Skills like drawing and singing, creative problem-solving and resourcefulness are already nurturing future generations of designers, architects, politicians, leaders of movements, parents and, dare we say, opera lovers.
Check out professional opera companies’ family programming. Opera Lafayette, a D.C.- and New York City-based company, has a program called “Opera starts with Oh! Online.” This pay-what-you-can program is ideal for 4 to 10-year-olds and their families. Focusing on a new opera story each month, each session highlights an element of opera like singing, instruments, dancing or design, taught by a professional artist.
With so much being online, it has never been easier to access fantastic-recorded performances, see international artists and build your opera library. There are always the classic children’s stories like “Peter and the Wolf” or “The Magic Flute.” A range of other performances and books are listed below. It’s also fun to read books that give extra context for the story, the themes or the music, branching out from the libretto. See what connections you can draw! What do you hear? What do you notice? What messages might you send with the music you make? Ask the children. They are ready and waiting in the wings.
- Opera starts with Oh! Play-On Materials
- Kids meet an Opera Singer
- Opera for Kids – Royal Albert Hall
- Quarantine Opera for Kids – Florentine Opera
- Family Friendly Operas – Opera Wire
- The Blacksmith
- Kids learn about a Lirone
- Kids learn about a Theorbo
- “Sing Me a Story: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children”
- “Opera Cat”
- “Scarlatti’s Cat”
- “When Marian Sang”
- “Becoming Bach”
- “Simply Fantastic: An Introduction to Classical Music”
- “The Orchestra Pit”