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Don't say 'masterpiece': Great works can be fun

July 07, 2007

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    July 07, 2007
  • article type
    Press
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    Opera Carolina News

Don't say 'masterpiece': Great works can be fun

We're about to talk about time-honored music and great ballets. When you talk to kids, though, don't use the word "masterpiece." Sounds like a vitamin pill.

Focus on the fun. Point their attention toward the singing, dancing, love stories and spectacle of these:

"Peter and the Wolf" by Sergei Prokofiev: Even the littlest kids can connect with young Peter's adventure in the countryside, where he saves his animal pals from a hungry wolf. A narrator tells the story, but the characters come to life in the orchestra -- from the twittering flute that personifies the bird to the French horns that snarl as the wolf. The Charlotte Symphony performs the tale Oct. 6 in one of its kid-friendly Lollipops concerts. A mime troupe will give the story its own twist: This time, the wolf will threaten the orchestra.

"The Four Seasons" by Antonio Vivaldi: A dance celebrating the springtime. A sticky summer day, complete with pesky bugs. The whipping winds of a storm. Careful footsteps on icy ground. Vivaldi describes all that and much more. Each season gets its own three-movement concerto, with a descriptive text setting the scene for each. It's an invitation to listeners of all ages to put on a CD, follow along with the texts, and let their imaginations go to work. A lively and inexpensive recording features violinist Itzhak Perlman on the EMI Classics label.

"Romeo and Juliet" by Charles Gounod: Ninth-graders in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools study Shakespeare's play in their English classes, so high schoolers are primed for Gounod's operatic version. Opera offers many ways to engage young people, said Teresa Robertson, Opera Carolina's education director. Some notice the music. Some enjoy the sets and costumes. Some focus on the storyline. Gounod's "Romeo" has passionate melodies, a dramatic swordfight and, of course, love scenes. Opera Carolina will perform it in October. In December, New York's Metropolitan Opera will use "Romeo" to launch the second season of its sensational Saturday-afternoon relays into movie theaters. What young person isn't at home at the multiplex?

"Nutcracker" by Tchaikovsky: Girls can imagine themselves as Clara, the story's heroine, whose Christmas gift from her mysterious godfather sends her off into fantasyland. Boys can identify with the soldiers or the athletic star of the Russian-dance number. Or any of them can just lose themselves in the exotic sights and sounds of the Land of Sweets, where Tchaikovsky's music reaches its peak of color and magic. It's no wonder that N.C. Dance Theatre and companies everywhere bring it back each December.

"Hansel and Gretel" by Engelbert Humperdinck: Everybody knows the story, and Humperdinck -- the German composer of the late 1800s, not his pop-singer namesake -- gave it the luxury of opera without losing its childlike appeal. A chorus of angels sings a benediction over the sleeping brother and sister. The witches take flight with full orchestral backup. After the leading witch gets her comeuppance in her own oven, there's a celebratory dance that's as bouncy as Vivaldi. The Metropolitan Opera launches the New Year with a movie-theater relay in English on Jan. 1.

Fairy tales galore: Cinderella is the star of an opera by Rossini and a ballet by Prokofiev. Tchaikovsky's ardent, sparkling music told the story of Sleeping Beauty long before Walt Disney got to her. If no stage performances are handy -- and they aren't in Charlotte at the moment -- use a CD. Go through the story and the music with your youngsters. "They can hear the characters in the music," Miville said. "They can feel the emotions. You can immerse kids in the kind of music experience, and they'll love it." Conductor Andre Previn has led well-regarded recordings of "Sleeping Beauty" and Prokofiev's "Cinderella" for the EMI Classics label. A vivacious CD of Rossini's operatic "Cinderella" stars Cecilia Bartoli.

"Aida" by Giuseppe Verdi: "Aida" sets a love story against the background of two warring countries. With its triumphal scene for the Egyptian army returning from battlefield, "Aida" epitomizes the grandeur of opera. One of the title role's most celebrated performers, Leontyne Price, wrote a children's-book adaptation with lush illustrations by Leo and Diane Dillon. Get the book and a CD of the opera's highlights and follow along. Opera Carolina performs "Aida" beginning Jan. 31.

STEVEN BROWN
sbrown@charlotteobserver.com