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Successfully Introduce a Child to Opera
Papageno from the Magic Flute
The Classical Child at the Opera
I totally love The Classical Child at the Opera because it does NOT contain a wide variety of opera excerpts, but instead, it contains selections from a few operas that were carefully chosen to appeal to children. At one of my schools, we had a unit for the second grade called "Composer Dude of the Month." During our Mozart month we listened to, discussed and practiced conducting to his orchestral piece Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.
For a Mozart opera, I used this CD and the 'Pa Pa Pa' segment from Die Zauberflote which is also called The Magic Flute. One of the most enjoyable, comedic characters in the opera is named Papageno. He is a Birdcatcher, but in his eccentric way he also dresses with feathers and acts like a bird in order to accomplish his duties. During this part, Pagageno has been lamenting for a Papagena to share his 'nest' with him. Note: Look at the cover of the CD!
He plays his magic bells. Suddenly 'she' appears and they rush up to each other while comically breaking into song. Like real birds they cluck and croon and sing about filling their nest with 'little papagenos' or children. This version is in English which helps the children with understanding the action.
Now what I did and what you can do is I used male and female puppets with mouths that opened and closed. Mine were a male moose named Moosey and a girl giraffe named Zooie. With the music playing, I modeled lip-synching both parts with a puppet on each hand. Then I let some students come up to help Moosey and Zooey perform. A girl held the giraffe and a boy held the moose and they would stand a few feet from each other. I would cue the music then stay in the back giving them cues if needed. The kids loved it.
Other notable selections from this CD include The Children's March from Carmen and the Anvil Chorus from Il Travadore.
The Classical Child at the Opera
Some of my favorite selections from this CD are Three Little Maids from School from the light Opera The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan and Largo Al Factotum from The Barber of Seville by Rossini (A Bugs Bunny cartoon does a great parody).
This is a wonderful rendition of the Pa pa pa bird duet from The Magic Flute. Put on the CD, use puppets and try it out with your kids or students! Notice the historical costuming of the orchestra. Magnifico!
Exciting Opera Music for Children
When teaching general music classes to lower elementary students, I found the following opera selection to be valuable - Bizet's opera Carmen. A recording I would suggest to you is Paris Opera Orchestra with Maria Callas.
Bizet-Carmen (Ouverture:March of the Toreador, L'amour Est Un Oiseau Rebelle,Entr'acte)
I explain to the class that the first piece I will play from Carmen is called "March of the Toreador." I tell them a Toreador is a Bullfighter. In Spain and other parts of Europe and Latin America, it was and still is popular to fight a bull in an arena. Originally it was a ceremony that was a form of entertainment. Nowadays, people tend to feel it's not very nice to the bull. When the crowds cheer the Toreador, they exclaim, "O lay!" The Bullfighter raises his special hat in salute. I show how to wave the pretend red cape to make the bull charge. I do a pantomime with a student, they are the Toreador and I am the bull. We then march to the piece, everyone holding a pretend cape. At the end of each verse, we raise our pretend hat and yell, "O lay!!" We then try to fake sing our way through the chorus singing the Toreador's Song.
For the L'amour solo by the character Carmen, I use my puppet and saunter around the class. I explain Carmen is singing about love.
We also listen to the beautiful flute solo in Entr'acte.
Another time I would invite the kids to use puppets to reenact sections of other operas, especially ones with two people singing back and forth.