Opera Omaha’s Karen Flayhart, director of development, and Lauren Medici, director of engagement programs, along with Gwenna Fairchild-Taylor and Kaitlin Zardetto, Holland Community Opera fellows, talk about introducing children to opera.
Q. What was the first opera that you attended and how old were you?
Fairchild-Taylor: My first opera was an English touring version of “The Barber of Seville.” I remember it came to my school and I was blown away. Then, a few years ago I got to be in that same production. It was very cool to come full circle.
Medici: An Opera Omaha student dress rehearsal of “La Boheme” at age 16, but when I was a kid my favorite tape to listen to in the car (dating myself here) was Mozart’s Magic Fantasy: A Journey Through “The Magic Flute”. We literally wore that tape out.
Zardetto: The first opera I attended was an Opera Omaha production of Puccini’s “Turandot” on a sixth-grade field trip.
Q. What productions are good first operas for kids? Why?
Flayhart: The more humorous operas — e.g. “Falstaff,” are generally great for kids younger than 12. Pre-teens and teenagers would benefit from exposure to the more traditional, popular operas as a true experience.
Fairchild-Taylor: “The Barber of Seville,” “The Magic Flute,” “La Boheme,” “Carmen,” “L’enfant et Les Sortilèges,” “The Cunning Little Vixen,” “Hansel and Gretel,” to name a few.
Q. Which opera/event(s) this season would you recommend for kids? Why?
Medici: The Ensembles in Residence concert at the Durham Museum during Opera Omaha’s ONE Festival will be a fun and interactive way to introduce kids to sound. Also, “The Abduction From The Seraglio” in February is a romantic comedy with gorgeous sets and costumes set in 1920s Germany. A comic opera is always a fun point of entry for slightly older children.
Fairchild-Taylor: “The Abduction From The Seraglio.” Mozart knows how to write great tunes and everyone can appreciate an adventure story.
Q. If a parent were unsure about whether to bring a child to the opera, what would you say?
Flayhart: As a parent, I view some of the real-life themes (e.g., violence) in these productions as opportunities to have conversations with my children. These issues are still so relevant to our society and to our kids. And let’s be honest: our children are exposed to more ‘adult themes’ every day from video games to movies than is found in an opera. That said, it’s a personal decision. Every family should do what is best for them. —
Zardetto: It’s easy to think that the typical genre of tragedy and romance in opera may not be suitable for children — but there are many wonderful ways to introduce children to opera. Most of these come from books or stories that a parent or trusted adult could read with a child and then introduce them to the live opera and talk about the differences or the sounds that the characters made or how they were different from the book versions.
Q. What resources or advice would you recommend to prepare a child to attend an opera for the first time?
Flayhart: Google the opera and give them the general story line so they know what is going to take place, and watch a few segments online. Make it fun. If your children like to dress up, go for it! If they don’t, let them be comfortable. Arrive early and catch the prelude talk for the opera. The more you know, the more fun it will be.
Medici: Read the synopsis together and talk about the story so that there’s a level of familiarity before you get to the theater. If you’re coming to an Opera Omaha production at the Orpheum Theater, we do prelude talks so you can learn even more about the opera.