Classical 101 Guide: Kid Friendly Operas
As a parent, I learned the cardinal rule of getting kids to sit still: Don't try it.
Or keep it short. Or tuneful. Or full of action. Better yet, keep it gross.
That's why opera is perfect for kids. Okay, they can be long, but use a little imagination in explaining the story, and try to hook up with a production filled with light and color. The Metropolitan's recent staging of the bloodthirsty Cavalleria rusticana would not fit the bill, for instance. The score and story clearly indicate a setting of Easter Sunday morning in Sicily. The Mets' staging indicates a failure to pay Con Edison. But I digress...
When introducing children to opera, people often begin with Mozart's The Magic Flute. This fairy tale opera includes a vicious Queen of the Night, a kindly priest, a winsome princess, the Dudley-do-right of prince (sweet but dim) and a fella who thinks he's a bird, and three ladies looking for love. Add Julie Taymor to Mozart's imagination and glorious music, and what's not to love?
Hansel and Gretel by Englebert Humperdinck (he got there first) seems an obvious choice. Think about it. Hansel is played by a woman with some odd wardrobe choices usually, but still, there's a wonderful Hansel video, complete with the witch and an oven to die for. Literally!
Yes, the witch is played by a man in a sort of drag... What, were you expecting Glinda?
There's a lovely opera by the Czech composer Leos Janacek. The title has been translated for years as The Cunning Little Vixen. Try selling that to a nine year old. A better title would be: The Story of Vixen Sharp Ears. This is like Bambi with different animals and better music.
Some opera afficienados have even suggested Richard Strauss' Salome for children. It's a one act opera filled with gore, sex, dancing girls, slaves and a beheading, but apperently Salome has been a big hit with kids. No joke. Parental discretion is highly advised for this PG-13 opera.
I'm just sayin'.
Any of these DVDs would be a good intro. Better yet, call me up on the phone and we can all go to the opera. Don't wait!