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I'd like to take my kids to opera. However most opera shows are in original language (mostly Italian). Do you have experience with it?

Are kids following the story without understanding the language? Aren't early readers (age 6) distracted by subtitle banners? Any suggested piece to start with? Anyone tried?

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+1 for asking a question that I was thinking about, too :) –  Francesco May 17 '11 at 7:28
    
Thanks all for these practical tips, but let me add one more complication, which I haven't mentioned in original question: we are not native English speakers and we are not in US. We live in Central Europe, Czech Republic and we certainly have some good operas in Czech, accessible to kids (Dvorak, Smetana), but certainly, Italian operas belongs to basics... Thus the question... –  Tom Burger Jun 20 '11 at 8:57
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4 Answers

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My 8yo is a budding opera geek... has been for at least a year and a half. His favorites are The Phantom of the Opera and the first half of Les Miserables.

I think what both of those have in common are that the stories are very accessible to children: Phantom is a ghost story, pretty straightforward; Les Mis (the first half, anyway) is about a little girl growing up in a pretty drama-ridden scenario.

It's been my experience that kids respond to good (and complex) music regardless of the presence of words or if they understand the words, but crating a real fan requires that they get the whole experience -- and that means a story line that they can really grok. Most six-year-olds don't read fast or fluently enough to read subtitles at speed while simultaneously picking up on everything else that goes on in the story.

Rather than using an opera in a foreign language, consider starting with some in English and, after your child becomes a fan, use that motivation as a basis to start introducting other things.

What I wouldn't give for a few more really good English-language operas with kid-friendly plots!

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I know it's not opera, but how about Shakespeare? Plays like A Midsummer Night's Dream should be pretty accessible - and even exist in "modern" versions - Romeo and Juliet, too. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun May 11 '11 at 5:46
    
We've done plenty of musicals, but I think there's a big difference about a "regular" stage play and an opera. One of the things that makes opera a great bridge for kids into grown-up music and theater is that the combination of sound and story is very natural to kids. Just watch/listen to Loony Tunes or Tom and Jerry to see this happen. –  HedgeMage May 11 '11 at 7:12
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The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables are not operas but musicals. They are much easier to follow. –  jny May 11 '11 at 15:18
    
Luckily we are Czech and there are some good operas in Czech :-) But of course, majority of pieces is in Italian. –  Tom Burger May 12 '11 at 6:42
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Musicals and operas are horses of wildly different colors and should not be confused. –  cwallenpoole May 12 '11 at 7:09
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The Met Opera has showings of operas in local movie theaters. You can get more information at the Met Opera website. It's probably easier (and cheaper) to remove a squirming kid from a movie theater than a theater. If nothing else, it could be an inexpensive way to see if your child is old enough to grasp some of the story, even if it's by the acting alone.

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I know this, and we did attend that couple of times with my wife. But we are in Central Europe, so for us it is evening event, starting 7:30pm. I see, I forgot to mention this in question :-) –  Tom Burger Jun 20 '11 at 8:55
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I'm going to start this out by saying 1. I only have children under 4, so I'm lucky if I can get them to watch a decent movie without running away to find new ways to get in to something dangerous/destructive (I swear, one day I will find my one-year-old repelling down the side of the fridge). 2. I am lucky if they are listening to classical on the radio. I make the following statements as a trained musician, not from my experiences as a parent.

Have you thought about starting with operettas? Gilbert and Sullivan are, on the whole, comparable in "musicality" to the operas in the Bel Canto style, and are far more accessible (I dare you to try to claim that Turandot is anywhere close to as easy to understand as Mikado).

After that, I would suggest looking into local companies. I know of one group in my home town who does maybe a couple of operas a year. Small, volunteer organizations are far more likely to present these than large companies -- larger companies generally view that as uncouth.

I've heard some good things about opera films. I remember my dad being particularly fond of a version of Don Giovanni. That strikes me as an easy way to transition to the actual stage productions.

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There is also a wonderful Barbiere di Siviglia by Abbado with Hermann Prey and Teresa Berganza, highly recommended: amazon.com/Rossini-Barbiere-Siviglia-Hermann-Prey/dp/B0007P0LOS/… –  Francesco May 17 '11 at 7:27
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I can't follow the story. :-)

The main problem though is sitting still and keeping quiet. Once the child can do that for as long as required, it should be fine. For other kids some concert halls actually have concerts for children, which basically means popular classical music (and sometimes the good bits from operas) where kids are allowed to jump in the seats. Keep a look out for them.

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The theater isn't the only place to see opera. We get DVDs and my little guy acts along with the movie, eats popcorn, whatever. Of course, this may have the side-effect of getting stuck listening to Phantom on an infinite loop for a couple of months... –  HedgeMage May 11 '11 at 7:13
    
@HedgeMage: Oh, absolutely, but the question was about taking them to the opera. And infinite loops can happen with anything. :-) –  Lennart Regebro May 11 '11 at 7:31
    
We have a local outdoor concert venue that occasionally runs classical music in conjunction with classical cartoons (Bugs Bunny, etc.). I enjoyed it as an adult, and can't wait to take my son there! Definitely keep an eye on all the outdoor venues during summer. –  Beofett May 11 '11 at 12:41
    
Ahh, I misread the initial query, I saw subtitles and assumed television. –  HedgeMage May 11 '11 at 20:15
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Well, we have some good experiences with ballet. Kids can sit and watch and listen for almost 2 hours. It was not so easy with classical music concert (as the visual part is missing). –  Tom Burger May 12 '11 at 6:43
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