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Debate: What do you think of opera for children?

Is introducing children to opera smug parenting or a valuable cultural eye-opener?

By Chris Shipman (Head of Brand Engagement and Social Media)

22 September 2014 at 4.41pm | 11 Comments

Later this Season, The Royal Opera and the award-winning Polka Theatre will present a new opera for two to six-year-olds, entitled Dot, Squiggle, and Rest. The toddler-friendly opera will feature puppetry, dance and animation and has been intended as an introduction to the art form.

Dot, Squiggle, and Rest is just one of a number of works and initiatives from opera companies around the world for younger audiences, reflective of a strong demand for an engaging cultural experience for children. It does raise the question though; is introducing kids to opera appropriate?

In a recent article, the blog Parentdish came out against the idea of opera for children, commenting that the concept is reflective of an increasing obsession with parenting 'one-upmanship' and that taking children to an opera is 'foolhardy'.

We asked our social media following for their thoughts:

What do you think, is introducing children to opera smug parenting or a valuable cultural eye-opener?

By Chris Shipman (Head of Brand Engagement and Social Media)

22 September 2014 at 4.41pm

This article has been categorised Learning and tagged by Joy Haynes, Dot Squiggle and Rest, first opera, learning, Production, schools, schools matinee

This article has 11 comments

  1. Naomi Quant responded on 22 September 2014 at 6:11pm Reply

    I'm all for it. My 6 year old has loved Briiten since 3 though I wouldn't take her to see Peter Grimes which is her favourite to listen to (thankful that she doesn't understand it yet)! She enjoys the colourful Magic Flute on DVDS and can pick out other Mozart when it comes on the radio. Engaging young children in classical music genres is essential for developing complex musical ears and encouraging the musicians and audiences of the future.

  2. Marie deSoto responded on 24 September 2014 at 12:50pm Reply

    My 4 sons have been exposed to opera since they were very small because mom loves it & it is played regularly at our house along with music from many other genres. As a result, they have an appreciation for opera and varying enjoyment depending on the particular son. My youngest will soon be in college studying Vocal Performance. I am blown away by all my kids every day!

  3. Fiona Mitchell responded on 26 September 2014 at 11:52am Reply

    All 3 of our children were exposed to Opera, Orchestral and concert performances and rehearsals pre school.

  4. michelle gibson responded on 26 September 2014 at 1:30pm Reply

    I take my daughters (aged 9 and 13) to opera and they both enjoy it. We also see ballet, traditional Christmas pantomines, musicals and pop bands. Its an enriching sensory experience and we want them to have some exposure to other art forms. Not all parents can afford to do this nor be willing to go themselves. We listen to all kinds of music at home from Elvis to Eminem - our girls have a much broader appreciation of what they really like as a result.

  5. Casey Snider responded on 28 September 2014 at 6:22pm Reply

    I'm all for introducing children to opera, ballet, and other arts, IF the child is old enough to know how to behave at these events. So many people take their kids to arts events without teaching them theatre etiquette - nothing ruins enjoyment of a performance like a child squirming, talking, crying, complaining, or playing with an electronic device. I once attended a performance of Giselle given by a prestigious national company with international stars in the lead roles, and had the misfortune to sit next to a family with a teenager and an elementary-school-aged child. The younger girl peppered her mother with constant questions; the teenager barely looked up from her phone the whole time. Short version: if your child can't be still, quiet, and attentive for at least two hours, find a babysitter - you can always introduce them to the arts at home.

  6. David Lyndon-Hedges responded on 29 September 2014 at 12:44pm Reply

    I believe it depends on the production. You couldn't introduce children to the ROH's Rigoletto because of the bare flesh and raucous sexual imagery from the start.
    That said even death, murder and seduction of, let's say, Tosca would be fine. We take children to see West End Musicals such as The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables which, after all, are modern day operas. So let's introduce children to La Boheme and the like.

  7. Kyley Chapman responded on 12 January 2015 at 2:52pm Reply

    It's not about whether the child can follow the story. It's about providing a beautiful sensory experience in a child friendly environment. Hurrah for the Polka Dot Theatre for taking on a professional production created and aimed at small children. Can't wait to take my little ones along. They will love it.

  8. Philippe Gillet responded on 25 February 2015 at 3:04pm Reply

    I have brought my son to the ROH since he was 5 years old to see various ballets. His first one was "Peter and the Wolf". Children will love it if you properly introduce then to the music, listening CDs, reading the synopsys, or watching YouTube extracts prior to coming.
    Since then, he has seen more than 15 ballets (classic and contemporary), events like Cubania... He also started learning Viola at Guildhall Junior Music School when he got 6.
    Having experienced music at the ROH certainly helped him getting motivated in playing an instrument, in addition to other complementary activities including sports.
    He is now 9 years old and will see his first opera next week (The Magic Flute). I showed him the queen of the night extract on Youtube and he is excited about seeing it live.
    Personnaly, I started learning piano 8 months ago. It is never too late to learn music and I find it very relaxing.
    To conclude, do not hesitate to bring your children to the ROH. It can only be beneficial to them. Make sure you introduce them to the show prior to the event. ROH is a very open and friendly place, with tickets starting at £8 only (cheaper than cinema).

  9. Richard responded on 21 March 2015 at 1:17am Reply

    At Christmas we took my 9 year old daughter to a mini Messiah - a one hour long selection of the more famous pieces each intorduced and put into context by the conductor - supposedly particularly for children..
    Unfortunately some of the children were too young (babes in arms) who cried the whole time, other older children were being allowed to simply run up and down the aisles, talk, shout, whatever they wanted.
    My daughter hated it as she said she couldn't hear the music. She loves the ballet and has been going since she was 6, We still haven't tried the opera. Next year we will take her to a full perofrmance of the Messiah,
    In short, yes take children to classical music performances by all means, but please only if they are old enough to sit relatively quietly for the duration of the performance.

  10. My kids (9 and 6) hear bits of opera in the house because I listen to it. They're interested in it - they don't have the preconception that it's 'difficult' or 'boring'. (9yo: Is that Iestyn Davies AGAIN? Me: Yes. Yes it is.) They like going to kids' theatre productions and I'm taking them to Opera North's Swanhunter next week - can't wait to see their reactions. I'd love to take them to a full-scale opera - I came away from Rinaldo last year thinking the 9yo would have LOVED it - but they'd struggle to concentrate for the whole thing. Remember reading about a company that did kids' activities related to the opera while the first half was on - including watching bits of it on a screen and talking about the plot - then the kids went in and watched the second half. That seemed like a brilliant idea.

    P.S. I get SO riled by 'smug parenting' judginess. I don't do anything with my kids to impress other people. I do it because I think they might like it. Jeez...

  11. Nadia responded on 23 May 2015 at 4:50am Reply

    My mother played opera to me in-utero and I've been going to live shows since I was 5 years old. There is no such thing as too young, we are the ones who condition our children to see things as smug or otherwise. I can't imagine my life without opera and have converted many of my friends to it with some pre-planning and storylines.

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