• Opera Quest: A Journey of Discovery

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    I’ve never forgotten my first experiences with opera. How captivated I was by the drama, comedy, excitement and passion conveyed through glorious music! And I was only about seven years old.

     

    My introduction to opera was Mozart’s Magic Fantasy, an audio-play retelling of Die Zauberflöte made especially for children, that combines excerpts of Mozart’s music with English-language storytelling easy for children to understand. I fell in love with it instantly, and when I eventually saw Die Zauberflöte onstage in the original German, I fully understood the story and enjoyed every minute of it, even though I was only eleven.

     

    As my love and knowledge of opera grew over the years, I found myself longing to share its magnificence with children the same age that I was when I discovered it. I wanted them to feel the same thrill that I did. While I found various books written to introduce children to opera, such as The Barefoot Book of Stories from the Opera or The Random House Book of Opera Stories, I found that they tended to bowdlerize or excessively modernize the stories, trying too hard to make them more kid-friendly. Even Mozart’s Magic Fantasy is guilty of this.

     

    Therefore, I created Opera Quest, a classroom program for children ages 8 through 12, that takes them on a “journey of discovery” through the world of opera. Opera Quest consists of eight presentations, 45 minutes to an hour long, each centered around a specific opera.

     

    In each presentation, I read the story of the opera in an English-language retelling that I’ve written, close to the original libretto while still easy for children to understand. At various key moments, I pause and play excerpts from a classic recording of the opera, complimenting the story with samples of its magnificent music in the original languages. Each presentation is followed by a question-and-answer session and every child is sent home with two handouts: one with a list of operatic terms to know, the other describing the history of the day’s opera and the life of its composer. Several presentations also include a short PowerPoint slideshow, discussing opera history, voice types, opera-going etiquette, and other useful information.

     

    There are eight Opera Quest presentations in all:

     

    1. What is Opera?/Hansel & Gretel

    2. Voice Types/Orpheus and Eurydice (Orfeo ed Euridice)

    3. The People Who Create Opera/Turandot

    4. Visiting the Opera/Romeo & Juliet (Roméo et Juliette)

    5. The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte)

    6. The History of Opera/The Child and the Magic Spells (L’Enfant et les Sortileges)

    7. Carmen

    8. How to Continue Your Opera Quest/Cinderella (La Cenerentola)

     

    These presentations can be given once a week for eight weeks in a row, once a month for eight months in a row, once a day over the course of two weeks, or at whatever schedule is most convenient.

     

    So far I’ve presented Opera Quest at four different schools and each class has responded with tremendous enthusiasm. I’ve seen ten- and eleven-year-olds wave their arms in their seats to the music of Humperdinck, lip-sync to Rossini coloratura, listen in wide-eyed awe to the Queen of the Night, and perhaps most impressively, sit (more or less) quietly for almost an hour, captivated by 100+-year-old stories that have no toilet humor or flashy effects, but do have outstanding music.

     

    A few classes have even written letters to me, full of comments that make me feel that I’m achieving my goal of sharing the thrill I felt when I first discovered opera:

     

    *”I used to think operas were boring, but when you came I started to enjoy them more and more… I have to go to find books and use the internet to learn about operas.” – Eleeza

    *”It was so interesting, I could listen to it all day.” – Negin

    *”Thank you for all the fun operas… I had a lot of fun!” – Alex

    *”I love opera.” – Charlie

     

    If you live in Los Angeles, CA or Carmel, CA and have any interest in featuring Opera Quest at your school, or library, or camp, etc, please contact me at info@paminasopera.com.

    • What a great project! This is not unlike the “Opera Club” a teacher of mine hosted after school one afternoon a week. It’s how I learned all my first operas. He was a huge Callas fan, so he would sometimes play a Callas recording of an aria followed by the same one with, say, Tebaldi, to show us how much better Callas was!

      • I’d never do that. I want the kids to form their own opinions and choose their own favorites. The recordings I use are personal favorites of mine, but I’m not fanatical about them. Now and then I’ll even use a different recording than usual: for my “Flute” presentation I usually use Solti’s recording, but once I got off to a late start and was pressed for time, so I used Östman’s instead because his tempos are faster!

    • I have had the good fortune to listen to all eight of your presentations including a time or two in the classroom with the students. It’s true, they are just transfixed. It is a combination of the gorgeous music but it’s also due to your dramatic readings of the opera stories. You incorporate different voices and you create such an atmosphere with your voice that they really are on the edge of their seats. Brava for your passion and your desire to share this beautiful art form.

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