My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Eyes wide open - a child's first experience with opera

It wasn't the Met in New York City.

No cavernous lobby to catch our breathe the moment we walked through the doors.
No plush red velvet seats.
No fancy scenery.
No large orchestra sitting in an illuminated pit below the stage.

But it simply didn't matter.  

We had driven 45 minutes to take our 6 year old daughter to her very first opera production, Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors, which was being performed for free at an episcopal church by Opera Roanoke.  Growing up around classical music and being subjected quite frequently to opera excerpts thanks to an opera scenes class that my husband teaches every year, our little girl was excited to be able to finally see an opera for herself, live.  And we were just as excited until we got to the church and discovered that the church was already completely full.  It was one of those moments that you dread as a parent.   

After several sighs from each of us my husband turned to walk back outside to the car.  I turned to look at my daughter and that's all it took to stop me from following my husband.  I bent down to her level, looked her in the eyes and said, "You're disappointed, aren't you?"  No words were needed from her,  I could see the answer in her eyes.  "OK, we'll stay.  We'll see what we can do," I responded.  She sat down on a bench and waited in silence.  That's not typical for her.

When it came time for the opera to start, my daughter looked up at me and I motioned her over to the main door of the sanctuary.  I told her that if she wanted to see what was going on she would have to go over to the doorway and sit quietly on the hard, cold tile floor.  Looking at me with that look that told me she didn't want to do it alone, I shook my head.  "We can't sweetie.  It wouldn't be polite to the others.  You're small.  You'll be fine and we'll be right here listening."  After only a second's hesitation she crept over to the designated spot and she settled in all by herself.  That's also not typical.  

From the moment she sat down she was entranced.  

Not long after the performance started I saw some men walking through the lobby toward where our daughter was sitting.  With crowns on their heads and treasure in their hands it was pretty obvious to me that they were the three kings, about to make their grand entrance into the sanctuary.  "This is going to be interesting," I thought, wondering how my daughter would react to having three king-like individuals standing right next to her.  Well they upped the ante - not only did they stand next to her as they awaited their entrance, they started singing right there with her at their feet.  They surrounded her with a sound that I can only imagine from the look that she had on her face.  And as if that wasn't enough, the last man to enter, the kings' page, patted her on the head as he walked by.  I literally thought she was going to burst.  That's somewhat typical for her but normally in the presence of cupcakes, not in the context of a classical music performance.  

She remained sitting there on that spot for the entire opera.  When she had to get up briefly to make room for some other singers to make their entrance she stood transfixed without even thinking of running back to our sides, content to stand with an usher that she didn't know at all until she was allowed to sit back down again in her little spot.  Again, not typical.

To watch her watching an opera for the very first time was something I will never forget.  To realize that she didn't need a fancy hall or exquisite costumes and sets to be wooed into the world of opera  was a revelation and a thrill that I can hardly describe.  

Here's hoping that going to the opera with her will soon be added to our list as being very typical.  


  1. Thanks for such a lovely piece! As mom to a two year old, we're eager but of course waiting for his first opera...but having sung many Hansel's myself in my day, I can't wait!

  2. Thank you for reading, Julie! This is definitely a good one to start your little one with...or Hansel and Gretel. And it is amazing to me how eager even young kids can be to watch opera, as long as it's a good one for kids. Everyone likes some drama! :-)


  3. My 3 year old LOVES the PBS recording of La Fancuilla Del West.
    Do you suggested good ones for little ones?

  4. Stephanie,
    I had never thought of La Fancuilla as being a good opera for kids but why not? I actually think there are many that can be appealing to little ones, for different reasons. There are stories that are particularly well-suited for kids:

    Mozart's Magic Flute
    Ravel's L'enfant et les sortil├Ęges (The Child and the Spells)
    Rossini's Cinderella
    Rossini's Barber of Seville
    Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel
    Verdi's Falstaff
    Puccini's Gianni Schicchi

    And for me, I was very entranced with fancy costumes and with anything exotic so these next ones fascinated me as a kid:
    Verdi's La Traviata (with it's great ball scenes and fancy dresses)
    Bizet's Carmen
    Verdi's Aida

    I know I'm leaving some out so hopefully some other folks can chime in. And if you come across something, please do let me know!

    Happy listening - I'm so excited that your little one is enjoying opera already :-)

    All the best,