Benefits of Taking Children to the Opera

Opera has a reputation for being high-brow, stuffy and old-fashioned, a place where rich people come to people-watch, gossip and listen to fat singers perform in bad dramatics shown to ancient music.

And yet, there is a lot in opera that may – and does – appeal to children.

Why take kids to the opera?

Opera is high musical drama, with grand sets, great emotions and over-the-top spectacle. Opera is also one of the important part of humanity’s cultural heritage, and having an idea of what it is about and how it feels to see one live on stage is a cultural rite of passage.

Children need exposure to the wide range of cultural forms and media. Live music, live theater, live dance and yes – live opera – are all out there to be experienced and savored and early exposure opens the doors to potential enjoyment later in life. You kids might not like opera, or they might reject it in rebellion and come back to it later, but they will not know whether they do or not unless they actually go and see one or two.

Opera is a musical drama and operatic music is among the greatest achievements of music in general. Hearing music (in this case, singing as well as instrumental) performed live on stage is a different experience to hearing it from a recording. Seeing the artists sing and play is interesting in itself, and the impact of live music heard in an environment dedicated to it is greater than any recording might have.

A visit to the opera is a cultural and social ritual. Depending on the opera house you visit, there might be a requirement to dress formally – or to bring a picnic and a blanket, if you are happening to visit Glyndebourne. Many opera houses are ornate buildings with lavishly decorated interiors. The whole process of going to a theater, with bells, intervals, programme buying, different types of seats, people watching – it’s all rather fascinating but it can be frightening later on in life if you have no prior experience. Although not a major life survival skill, a visit to an opera house is certainly a bit of a cultural rite of passage.

How to take kids to the opera?

Firstly, they need to be of reasonable age: think ten onwards, really. Operas tend to be long and younger children, unless particularly interested in and sensitive to, classical music, will probably not manage to stay that long. Even older children might get bored and restless after an hour or two (though they might just love it all, too) so be prepared for an early exit (and if you don’t want to lose your own ticket, arrange with a friend or a relative to collect your kid at an interval while you go back to hear the rest of the performance).

Prepare by learning something about the story. Many opera stories are rather melodramatic and adult, but general gist can be grasped by most, and the intensity and drama might appeal to older kids and teenagers in particular.

You might choose to listen to a recording first, and choose an opera that contains arias and musical passages that you and the child can recognize and particularly enjoy.

Sit close, closer than you yourself might like – kids like to be able to feel the action.

Consider also other varieties of musical theater. Ballet is popular with children, and there are many ballets that are either aimed at young audiences (Peter and the Wolf, Nutcracker). Musicals or operettas might be more accessible (cheaper and/or more enjoyable).