Opera for kids.
November 19, 2009 10:00 AM   Subscribe

Opera suggestions for children.

I have a four-year-old boy who recently heard opera-styled vocals and was immediately mesmerized by it. He was also entranced by YouTube videos I found by just searching for opera.

I know next to nothing about opera and I need suggestions for pieces that would interest a kid. I'd prefer bouncier, lighter pieces and let him save the darker, more dramatic selections for when he's an emo teen.

YouTube examples are welcome, but what I'm really looking for is audio, either single mp3s or full performances.
posted by eyeballkid to Media & Arts (28 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Gilbert and Sullivan operettas are nice and light, often funny, in English, and (as a bonus) have plots that kiddies can generally follow if you do some explaining. Lots of good recordings out there.
posted by Bardolph at 10:05 AM on November 19, 2009

Billy Budd
posted by Jacqueline at 10:05 AM on November 19, 2009

I *loved* my tape of The Magic Flute when I was really little. Especially the queen of the night aria and a song Papageno sings at the beginning, but really all of it... I'm pretty sure my version was in English... but I have no idea where to find it. I'd definitely recommend The Magic Flute though.
posted by brainmouse at 10:06 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Delibes--the Flower Duet from Lakme.

Mozart--Papageno/Papagena duet from the Magic Fluet.

Bizet--Toreador Song from Carmen.

Bizet--L'amour est un oiseau rebelle from Carmen.

Just links to Youtube, but it's something to start with.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:08 AM on November 19, 2009

I came to say Gilbert and Sullivan and The Magic Flute, and also The Marriage of Figaro--I had an LP of selections from it as a kid that I pretty much wore out.

You might look for Die Fledermaus, The Barber of Seville, and Carmen.
posted by padraigin at 10:10 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is a lovely cd.

Also, given the time of year, he might find Amahl enthralling.
posted by fish tick at 10:13 AM on November 19, 2009

We're coming up on the time of year for Amahl and the Night Visitors.
posted by Jahaza at 10:13 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you're looking for a light & frothy opera you can't do much better than Rossini's The Italian Girl in Algiers. For a more modern one, you might also try Prokofiev's The Love for Three Oranges, which can best be described as a fairy tale with frequent breaking of the fourth wall.
posted by Johnny Assay at 10:20 AM on November 19, 2009

Oh, one more: Rossini's opera version of Cinderella.
posted by Johnny Assay at 10:22 AM on November 19, 2009

The Magic Flute was one of my absolute favorite movies when I was a kid. Oh man. Loved the hell out of it. It had subtitles, but that didn't bug me since I was already reading by five. I'm sure English versions exist, or you can just enjoy the music and follow the story fairly decently without knowing German.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:31 AM on November 19, 2009

Nth-ing Magic Flute. Mozart in general, really. Only his "Don Giovanni" gets very "dark" (and sometimes not even then, depending on how willing the production may be to downplay the fact that Giovanni is basically a serial rapist. )

Carmen is catchy tunes for sure, but man it's pretty seriously tragic and a bit bloody.

Does your kid like myth/fantasy stories? Like, gods heroes and dragons? Then you might actually look for a collection of excerpts from Wagner's Ring Cycle. I got interested in it as a kid when music from it was used as the score for the movie "Excalibur." I have this highlights collection and recommend it. It gets you the best orchestral parts along with the best singing parts.

And for fun, you could get the MP3 of Anna Rusell's famously hilarious retelling of the Ring Cycle story. I first heard it as a kid and recorded it off the radio. Have had it practically memorized ever since. "My Friend Erda - she's a green faced torso that pops out of the ground. At least we think she's a torso, as that's all that anybody's ever seen of her..."
posted by dnash at 10:40 AM on November 19, 2009

The Bergman movie of the magic flute is definitely worth watching. It is silly, charming and just sort of wonderful.
posted by sciencegeek at 10:49 AM on November 19, 2009

N-thing The Magic Flute -- I would highly recommend Julie Taymor's staging for a kid!

I was really fond of Menotti's Chip and His Dog when I was a kid. (I can't find any commercial recordings of it available, but it's on YouTube starting here.) I also liked Amahl, mentioned above several times.
posted by lysimache at 11:13 AM on November 19, 2009

(I'm trained as a singer of operatic music, and so was my mom, so I'm coming from a background where I was exposed pretty early.)

My first opera was Don Giovanni, when I was 9 or so. It was pretty easy to follow because the music was beautiful but not TOO complex, and I could read the supertitles above the stage. Plus the action was very clear: this guy is bad, he gallivants all over, there's a statue, and OH NO THERE HE GOES TO HELL BUHBYE! Pretty much any Mozart opera is a great start; it's not too heavy, but the music is perfect -- arias aren't too long, either -- and the action is clear. There was a recent Julie Taymor production of the Magic Flute at the Met that was geared specifically towards families, and it should be available on video.

I'd definitely recommend Gilbert and Sullivan.

There are often local or regional companies specializing in adaptations of operas for kids. I am, of course, biased towards Opera for the Young because friends of mine run it, but you can see what I mean. One other option might be to get DVDs of the old operas from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, which are helpful because it shows how they prepare for it. They're also good in showing that operas are still being made today, in many different styles.

I think it's pretty important that kids interested in learning more about opera understand that it's not just about fat ladies running around singing in Italian about their lovers. Whereas today we see it as a highfalutin' thing for old people, it was once the vernacular art form in many places, particularly the opera buffa style. And especially in the land of Britney Spears and American Idol, singing in an operatic style can be an acceptable and even fun way of expressing yourself. It's a great way to turn that "playground voice" into something powerful.

Encourage him to have fun with them and sing along, even if he has no idea what they're singing about or what he's doing. In a few years, he'll realize that he wasn't just messing around.

And, of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't include my favorite opera video of all time (from Sesame Street).

Billy Budd? What kind of preschool are YOU running???
posted by Madamina at 11:14 AM on November 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you haven't already, you've got to show him What's Opera, Doc?. Best cartoon ever!

I also recommend checking if your local library subscribes to the Opera in Video streaming collection - it is fantastic.
posted by susanvance at 11:22 AM on November 19, 2009

Candide has some bouncy, boisterous songs in it---of course, several are about awful things. What a day! What a day / for an auto-da-fé! Others are merely oozing with irony.
posted by tss at 11:57 AM on November 19, 2009


/OK so I'm only half serious.
posted by jockc at 12:40 PM on November 19, 2009

The Classical Kids series is absolutely amazing. I had all of them as a child and could probably sing you every piece from every tape, and recap every story. It was an incredibly magical introduction to the great composers and their most famous works. I listened to them over and over, from the age of 5 until the age of, say, 12. I still love to hear them, even now, though they are definitely geared towards kids.

(I grew up playing the violin seriously from age 5, and listening to those tapes was a major motivator for me - they do a wonderful job of showing the depth and emotion of music, and they really made me want to learn to express myself musically.)

The Mozart one, Mozart's Magic Fantasy, follows a girl who gets "stuck" as a part in the opera, and introduces all the characters and the music in a wonderful way. Highly recommended.
posted by Cygnet at 1:27 PM on November 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

Oh, also - one awesome thing about the Classical Kids series is that after listening to them many times (in addition to growing up in a musical household), I was able to identify which the composer of a piece of music after hearing a short snippet on the radio in the car. As a young kid, that was absolutely thrilling to me!

And, maybe this is too off-topic, and you will probably have to wait until your son is older, but there's this fantastic book about composers for kids: Beethoven, Bach and the Boys. (I got it as a present from my violin teacher when I was 10.)
posted by Cygnet at 1:34 PM on November 19, 2009

Oh man. Oh man. I've been waiting for someone to ask this question. Please show your child Maurice Ravel's L'enfant et les sortilèges (The Child and the Spells). It's a nice and short one act opera with some of the greatest opera music ever and a fanciful story about an obnoxious kid who throws a tantrum in his room, throwing all of his stuff around, and after his mother leaves the stuff all comes to life and starts chastising him for being such a jerk all the time. It's not necessarily aimed at children, I think, but a child will certainly enjoy it. I don't even like opera and it's one of my favorite things. Here's a pretty good performance on YouTube, and I have this recording of it, though it seems to be discontinued and only available used. There seem to be a number of recordings of it by big name conductors and troupes, though, so you shouldn't have too much trouble finding a good recording if you want to buy it. A video is totally worth it for this one, though.

Oh man. I'm going to watch it again.
posted by invitapriore at 2:34 PM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Absolutely seconding the Classical Kids series. My sisters and I absolutely loved them too and we must have listened to them hundreds of times. It's a great way to get kids into classical music and music history. This site has more info on all the different stories and let's you listen to clips.

I was also obsessed with the Met's production of the Magic Flute when I was a kid, even though it was in German & subtitled.

There's also Hänsel und Gretel, which would probably appeal to children. There's an English version and a DVD.
posted by Kirjava at 2:36 PM on November 19, 2009

I was afraid someone was going to mention Hänsel und Gretel. Maybe it's just me, but ever since I was taken to see it as a kid I've always thought it a most unappealing way to be introduced to the world of Opera.

There seems to be a theme going here recommending The Magic Flute, and I'd agree. It has everything: unbeatable music, a dragon, humor, a guy in a bird suit...

Other ideas: The Love for Three Oranges, The Golden Cockerel
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 6:00 PM on November 19, 2009

I have to make a very brief reference to the 80's TV show "Malcolm in the Middle", Season 6 Episode 11 where, in a sub-plot, Jamie (about the same age as the OP's child) has an across-the-street through facing windows romance going on with a girl the same age, with opera music in the background. It's both humorous and touching. I'm not an opera buff, so I can't tell you the name.
posted by forthright at 7:35 PM on November 19, 2009

I'm surprised no one has mentioned the Holy Trinity of classical music works written for children: Hansel and Gretel, Peter and the Wolf, and The Nutcracker.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:03 PM on November 20, 2009

Hansel and Gretel was mentioned (not entirely positively) above, and neither Peter and the Wolf nor The Nutcracker are operas. So that explains that.
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:17 PM on November 20, 2009

Many years ago I saw a Canadian Opera Company production of Hansel and Gretel where two singers performed a duet while on roller-skates. The witch's cottage was lit with flashing disco lights.

(This same production also had the most haunting chorus of the abducted children, all dressed in white, under very dim stage lighting). Not overtly traumatic, but pretty thoughtful.

Peter and the Wolf and The Nutcracker are tons of fun.

I vaguely recall watching an episode of 'Malcolm in the Middle' where one of the younger sons writes a libretto about his parent's marital problems set to music in the style of Mozart. It was brilliant.

The Bugs Bunny gang who did 'What's Opera Doc?' did lots of Classically themed stuff, I especially liked: 'Long-Haired Hare'.
posted by ovvl at 9:06 PM on November 22, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the answers. I'm going to be doing some research/purchasing during the Thanksgiving weekend.
posted by eyeballkid at 1:54 PM on November 23, 2009

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