A Night at the Opera

Have you ever had one of those days when you looked in your closet and picked out several things to wear, all the while thinking of each, Nah this won’t do? That’s how I’ve been the last several days with blog posts. I started one on writing tips from Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon (yes, really; it’s almost finished) and one on the great outdoors (less finished). But this post you’re reading is neither of those (Perhaps you’re thinking, Whew, I dodged that bullet), nor any of the other ideas I had swirling around in my head.

Last week, a friend of mine and I attended a student production of Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute (which also is playing at the Civic Opera House in Chicago). Though I have attended several operas over the years, and enjoyed them, I can’t say I’m an opera aficionado. But I have friends who love the opera, and one friend who is an opera soprano (and a faculty member at the University of Illinois). So, that’s how I found myself at the opera several times.

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I didn’t know the storyline of The Magic Flute beforehand (click storyline in the first part of the sentence for the synopsis), though I’d heard one of its most well-known arias elsewhere. That aria, “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” (“Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart”) is sung by the Queen of the Night, a character who does what is needful to regain her kidnapped daughter, Pamina. You can listen to that aria here if you like.

You probably already know this (if you do, you know way more than I did last week), but I’ll tell you anyway. The Magic Flute is a fairy tale that follows the hero’s journey model. We meet the hero, a prince named Tamino, whose call to action from the ladies of the court of the Queen of the Night is to rescue Pamina from Sarastro—her kidnapper. Along the way, he gains a sidekick—Papageno, who is forced to accompany him on this mission. In Act I of the opera, you start off with one idea about who is good and who is evil, then find that notion overturned in Act II.

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At left in black is Abi Beerwart, who played Pamina; in yellow, is Bethany Crosby, one of the ladies of the court of the Queen of the Night

I love the hero’s journey story model and fairy tales. Having grown up on a steady diet of fairy tales and musicals, thanks to parents who took my brothers and me to musical performances, this opera was right up my alley. I love that my assumptions were overturned, but not in a frustrating, this-doesn’t-make-sense kind of way.

Several small children in the audience were very vocal in their commentary. Some burst into tears, wanting to leave halfway through the production. Others, knowing cast members, cheered when their favorites appeared. Still others just wondered what was going on. Early in the performance, I had the same question. But at least the children were there, soaking in the rich tapestry that was The Magic Flute.

I’m reminded of a recent post at Jennie’s blog, A Teacher’s Reflections.

Major pieces of art? Masterpieces? Introducing this to preschoolers? It is not easy to explain to people how and why art can make a difference with young children.

You have to read the post (click recent post above to do so) to understand why I thought of it as I wrote this post. Jennie ends the post with, “Art makes a difference.” Perhaps watching The Magic Flute will be life changing for the children who attended it as well.

What kinds of art (musical performance, movies, books, animation, dance, painting or other forms of visual art) were you exposed to as a young child? What difference did it make in your life?

P.S. Extra bonus points if you can guess where I got the title, “A Night at the Opera,” from. Though I had one specific source in mind, there is another possible answer.

Photos by L. Marie.

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46 thoughts on “A Night at the Opera

  1. I saw The Magic Flute in Manchester around twenty years ago, quite enjoyed it. Growing up the art I was exposed to is the art that remains with me now as an adult: music and books. Proof that first lives can go the distance 🙂
    Immediate thoughts on Night at the Opera are The Marx Brothers and Queen.

  2. I visited Jennie’s blog. The part about listening to The Four Seasons reminded me about a Drama lesson in secondary school. We were to perform acts connected to the Great Fire of London, and our teacher played us Mars from Holst’s The Planets as we were asked to visualise the scene. Was very effective.

  3. Is it the Queen album?

    I was taken to see plays and musicals as a young child and I now perform in them myself. I said a couple of years ago when I was doing the Crucible that it’s probably not a coincidence that my two major hobbies in life and reading/writing and acting – two things where I get to delve inside other people’s heads and try to figure them out and bring that out to other people.

    • That is the other possible answer, yes! I thought of the Marx Brothers’ film, but I also love Queen.

      That makes sense, Emily. With such a huge focus on technology, I feared that more parents would push their children away from the arts, toward STEM-focused ventures. I have nothing against those. But we still need actors and storytellers!

  4. I’m thinking Marx Brothers. I remember seeing some plays as a kid, but the interest never really stuck. Although there were the interactive plays that let children be involved and those seemed more interesting. My son appears to. E the same way.

  5. I feel like you! I’ve had two or three different blog post ideas over the last week. I’ve started two of them, but finished none of them! You are a step ahead of me. You’ve got one out! So cool that you went to see a student performance of The Magic Flute. I didn’t know the story until I read Martine Leavitt’s Tom Finder, which she said she’d loosely based on the opera. I love being able to see relationships between pieces of art, but I’m not usually well-versed enough to recognized them 🙂

  6. I’m one of your friends who falls into the non-opera aficionado, L. Marie. The story of The Magic Flute sounds interesting though. Growing up in the suburbs of Washington DC, I remember going to The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts often, of course I was too young to really appreciate it. I wanted to go to the circus instead. 🙂

    • Ha ha! I hear you on the circus. I didn’t get to the circus until I was an adult! It was great, Jill! If a parent can’t take a kid to the opera, at least take the kid to the circus if you can!

  7. The Marx Bros. – A Night at the Opera?
    My father took us to a few performances, usually involving something Greek, when my sister and I were quite young. I still remember going to the Civic Opera House to see a performer, Nick Noble, sing. I wrote about him some years ago, recalling his shoes, which shined so brightly. The really fun part was that his daughter discovered my post and contacted me, and fondly remembered her father’s shoes!
    My first opera was also a dress rehearsal, at the Lyric, when I was a junior in high school My English Lit teacher arranged it for the class and it was Carmen! (English Lit and Carmen?) It was a thrill I still hold closely many years later.

  8. I went to a lot of concerts when I was young because my mother was a music teacher, but I’ve never been to the opera. I did see Liberace as a child though. He was fantastic. I still remember his show decades later.

    Hope you’re doing well and that your New Year is starting out happily. 🙂

  9. In general, I do think it’s good to expose children to the arts young – but making them listen to opera is too, too cruel! In fact, making adults listen to opera should be banned too – especially those shrieking sopranos… Haha! Maybe I’d feel differently about opera if I’d been exposed to it young. The Marx Brothers are good though… 😉

  10. Kids are curious . . . and open to new experiences. Sharing the world of art and music with them begins to expand their horizons.

    That said, some art and music is more suitable for children than others. As a child, I loved The Flight of the Bumblebee . . . classical light. 😀

    I immediately thought of this with your title:

    • That’s it exactly, Nancy! 😀

      I also loved “Flight of the Bumblebee” as a child. We listened to some of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony as well. It’s great to see children grow up and put their own spin on classical works.

  11. The Marx Brother’s movie, I hope!

    As a kid, growing up in the mid-to-late ’60s, I was exposed to a fairly wide variety of art, much of it via TV. Leonard Bernstein’s “Young People’s Concerts” showed me how classical music was put together and helped me figure out how to listen to it, plus a classical music trio played two or three concerts every summer in the small town where I grew up. There were also old movies on TV on weekends when there wasn’t football, which exposed me to classic films of the 1940s and 50s, some of them involving dance (Leslie Carron, Gene Kelly). The one art I didn’t get much of was painting, because there weren’t many galleries around, although I did see a painting from the Hudson River School any time I visited a nearby museum. I was so impressed by the depiction of the Dome of Yosemite, which took up one whole end of the room.

    I can’t imagine a life without art in it. This history of art helped me remember the history that was dates and people/politics, and helps me understand culture.

    • That’s it! I thought of the Marx Brothers. 🙂

      My parents had a ton of albums with all sorts of music: jazz, classical, Motown, rock. They had eclectic taste, which was very inspiring to us and to their grandchildren. I remember “borrowing” their Romantic Strings of André Kostelanetz album. I loved that album when I was a child.

      And yes, I remember watching old movies on TV. Which was why I grew up loving movies with snappy dialogue like It Happened One Night and His Girl Friday.

  12. A member of my critique group started her middle grade novel with her protagonist’s attendance of The Magic Flute. For my part, I’m not an opera fan. My exposure to the arts was exclusively through books, though my parents did sign me up for piano lessons. It was an ill-fated enterprise, as I kept sneaking away from my instructor to watch Monday Night Football.

    • Ha ha! There is entertainment to be found in Monday Night Football.

      How cool that your fellow critiquer has a scene like that. I wonder if some of the kids who attended will write about their experiences.

  13. Art surely makes a difference. It broadens our understanding of the world. It is telling stories through various media. I’m not into opera, but reading this has piqued my curiosity.

    Books had a great influence on me. I travelled to distant shores on account of them as a child.

  14. Pingback: Writing Tips from Pokémon Sun and Moon | El Space–The Blog of L. Marie

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