There are admittedly very many things I do not know about opera. I can’t rattle off dates of premieres and am likely to mismatch composers with their operas on live radio.
I can, however, claim one very large success: Getting my kids to like opera.
My parents tried to get us to like it and all I can say about that is it’s amazing my sister and I lived to adulthood. I remember getting the giggles and holding my breath to keep from laughing. Don’t try that. We also used to play tiny, invisible instruments. And then we’d laugh.
Taking our cue, Mom tried us on comedies – thinking we’d enjoy them more. We didn’t. She did not at any point beat us senseless. This speaks of the power of music to calm even the most frayed of nerves.
So how do you get your kids to like opera? Don’t let them go.
It all started when I was reviewing opera for an indie newspaper. I went to several operas by myself and then came home talking about them. One day when my husband and daughter were dropping me off at a theater, my daughter couldn’t take it anymore. She pitched a fit.
“It’s not fair!” she wept. “You always get to go and we NEVER get to go.”
I explained that it was for work and she didn’t seem to mind when we went to our other stupid jobs. But she did not relent.
I lay down the law with her. If she didn’t like it or was scared, she had to suck it up. We could not leave and she could not be disruptive. I explained that the opera was not for children and not in English. I tried to talk her out of it. Finally, I was in danger of being late, so I succumbed to her pleas.
I don’t know if it was the build up or if she’s just wired for opera, but my 6 year old was literally on the edge of her seat the whole time. Aside from little exhilarated gasps, she did not make a sound.
I’ve since taken both kids to opera – live and broadcast – and they both dig it. We started going to so much opera together I thought it was high time to take my mother along. After all, I owe her. She took us to everything.
When I invited her to join us, she declined because after all these years she is finally willing to admit that opera is not her thing.
My own mother doesn’t like opera. After making us watch hours and hours and lifetimes of it.
Which is maybe why we didn’t like it ourselves.
To be completely honest, I don’t know if your kid will like opera or not. But if they seem game, there’s a lot that’s great for kids. It’s epic. There’s music. There are costumes. Lots of opera companies offer discounted tickets for kids, which I always take as a sign that kids are welcome. It’s not necessary to wait for a performance that’s strictly for children.*
Watching their faces verifies that there is something magical happening on stage and we’re not crazy for loving it like we do.
And there’s always the hope they’ll take us when they grow up.
*I didn’t take my kids to Boris Godunov. And I’ll probably skip Lulu with them. I’m the one they come to when they have nightmares and I like my sleep.