As I am exploring the idea of getting my Masters in Vocal Performance, so that I can persue singing professionally, my thoughts have been on Opera a lot lately. In high school when asked what kind of music I liked I tended to reply as such: “Basically everything, but rap, heavy metal, and opera.” However, when I added voice to my Music Education major my sophomore year of college I was thrust into the world of opera and have come out on the other side proclaiming, “THIS STUFF IS AMAZING!!!!” I am currently trying to immerse myself in as much opera as I can and I regret that I did not get an earlier start. Many high school students tend to see opera as weird, scary, 300lb horned-hat wearing women, and steer clear. But I believe that the need to experience opera, not in the way that they are expecting it, but REALLY experience opera and hopefully they will be amazed just as I was.
Carmen, The Marriage of Figaro, The Damnation of Faust, The Magic Flute, Don Giovanni and The Ring of the Nibelung are all well know Operas that have captivating stories, impressive singing and brilliant orchestration. Approaching an opera can be intimidating to any teacher let alone their students, so I suggest that the teachers become very familiar with it before they present it to their students. Start with reading the plot/synopsis, it’s easier when you know what is going on. Do some research on the opera and find out which pieces are the “token” pieces, the big arias, the acclaimed duet, etc. With translation in hand listen to these pieces many many times until you are familiar with them enough to sing the melody. You are now ready to present it to your class.
Start by setting the time period and composer background, as well as any interesting facts accompanying the opera. Once the students have an idea of when it takes place introduce the characters and the plot. Picking on comic opera (Opera Buffa) for their first opera is always a wise choice in assisting in winning them to opera. Once they are familiar with the plot choose one or two of the big numbers in the piece (it may be an aria or an overture, or even a chorus number) and teach them to your class. Make sure that the students have the music and translations, if necessary, in front of them to follow along. Emphasize the use of the voice to convey emotion and especially the mastery of vocal technique in many opera arias.
If you choose the right opera and number your students will be sold on opera. Good starts are:
- Queen of the Night, from The Magic Flute
- Non Piu Mesta, from La Cenerentola
- Overture, from William Tell
- L’amour est un oiseau rebelle, from Carmen
There are many great operas new and old and any way that you can expose your students to opera is wonderful, especially if you can show videos or even go to a performance. It isn’t as scary and weird as most tend to think it is!