“Daddy, can we watch Falstaff again tonight?” There’s something about the large man’s folly that makes my 7 and 8 year old laugh and ask for this opera. Do they understand that he is being punished for his avaricious behavior towards women? I’m not sure but they love watching him being paraded around in his pajamas with deer antlers on his head.
About 3 years ago me and my boys started a new tradition. We subscribe to the MET HD channel that broadcasts performances from the Metropolitan Opera in New York. We watch a little bit at a time. I read them the subtitles and immerse them in the story ahead of time. Then, when the opera comes to NYC, we try to go. This has become such a wonderful thing and I cherish the opportunity to share this with them.
While many of the storylines end in some sort of dramatic death or act of betrayal, many do not. The boys love the light-hearted Mozart operas. They cheer on Fidelio from Beethoven’s lone opera. And even those that end in tragedy, are loved by them. Together, we dream about these operas; the heroes and heroines; the epic battles and struggles of faith and morality. I’m always amazed that they will sit through an hour and a half of The Magic Flute just to hear the Queen of the Night sing her classic aria.
For anyone looking to add a new way to absorb your children in age old stories and gorgeous music, here are our favorite operas to share with your kids. (With discretion….of course)
1. The Magic Flute – This vibrant fairytale is a lot of fun for the kids. The story is wild and often bizarre, in my book, but the kids love it. Musical Storybooks has a companion book for children. The music is full of fun and laughs that only Mozart could offer. Everyone will love the ridiculous birdcatcher Papageno and his songs. The story is set in a mythical land between the sun and the moon. Tamino is approached by three spirits of the Queen of the Night who beg him to save the Queen’s beautiful daughter Pamino, who was captured by Sarastro (a sun god.) Tamino and the silly birdcatcher go to save her, entrusted with a magic flute for protection. The opera is full of colorful gods and animals and flying spirits and has music you and they will not forget.
2. The Troyens – Hector Berlioz’s tale of the Trojan War and its aftermath is historically illuminating. It is a retelling of The Aeneid and offers a wonderful pairing with Roman and Greek mythology should your kids enjoy learning about this. Warning; it is a long one but a little at a time and intermixed with a kids version of Homer’s The Odyssey makes it go a lot further with them. In the tale, The Trojans flee Troy after the Greeks siege. They get swept to Carthage on the coast of North Africa where Aenas falls in love with Dido. Dido tries to convince him to settle and set his new kingdom in Carthage but the gods remind him that he was sent to Italy to form a new great kingdom; The Roman Empire. He leaves for Italy with a broken heart but a bold and noble mission. If history is interesting to your kids there are many opportunities here.
3. Cosi Fan Tutte – You can’t go wrong with Mozart and this opera is full of laughs and “fast singing.” It’s the story of two men who test their fiancees loyalty by disguising in ridiculous costumes and trying to seduce the women. The kids will love the costumes, the music and the hilarity of the situation.
4. Turandot – Puccini’s score is lush and exotic. Inspired by his love for the Far East, the music is full of surprises. The set is huge and inviting. There is a children’s book by Music Storybooks that can be read with it. Turandot is staged in China, where many suitors travel far to attempt to seek the hand of cold princess Turandot. Many men risk their lives. If they can answer three riddles correctly, they may marry her, but any wrong answer and they will die. Finally, Prince Calaf solves the riddle but the Princess still refuses to marry him. It becomes a tale about Prince Calaf’s trust and nobility and has a stunning feel-good ending.
5. Carmen – You may need to skip the ending, but the music alone is enough to hook the kids. There are children in the opera and chorus lines of kids at train stations. Bizet’s one hit wonder is the tale of a gypsy woman whose independent heart leads men crazy and to her eventual death. Bull fighters, late night mountain travails and many other high drama moments make this opera perhaps the most memorable of them all.
6. Falstaff – Kids love seeing Verdi’s large man made the fool. Falstaff attempts to seduce two married women in order to steal some money. When the two women find the identical letters, they carry out a plan to out him that is ridiculous and hilarious.
7. Aida – This opera is not one for the faint of heart. It’s long and complex but rewards are plentiful. It’s the story of a captured Ethiopian slave who falls in love with an Egyptian warrior. Aida and Radames the warrior are forced to choose between love and loyalty, country and heart. There are twists and turns and grand march scenes. Musical Storybooks again offers a companion kids book and this tale gives you an opportunity to immerse them in Egyptianology, which is very enticing to most children.
8. Barber of Seville – The story is goofy. Rossini’s most famous opera is instantly memorable. The opening overture will ensure you are all hooked. There is something about the fast singing and hilarity of the characters and their dilemma that makes this a kid favorite. The plot is simple. A Spanish nobleman is attempting to woo young Rossina, the ward of an old rich doctor who is set on marrying her. When the nobleman has difficulty, he enlists Figaro the town barber to intercede. The scenes are hilarious and the music will never bore you.
9. Samson Et Delilah – One of my favorites, the music is beautiful and the scenes and sets are extremely memorable. If your kids like Bible stories then this is one for you. It’s very easy to follow and the music, dances and choruses make it one to remember.
10. Orfeo and Eurydice – Pair with Greek Mythology. This short opera is simple and visually spare, but it retells the story of Orpheus who goes into the Underworld to bring his lover back to life. Hades makes him promise that he will not look back until he has crossed into the Land of the Living, but it proves too much.
Others my boys loved: Traviata, Rigoletto, Idomeneo, La Boheme, The Elixir of Love, Rusalka