31 October 2008 10:43 AM

Opera, of all things, in the curriculum

by Dr. Rick

There was a thought-provoking editorial in the Baltimore Sun on October 11, “Opera is Cool,” by Glenn McNatt.  It tells of the Baltimore Opera Company’s outreach to elementary, middle, and high school students in an attempt to coax “impressionable young people to appreciate this most extravagant art so they’ll come back as adults.”  Read it.  You’ll see why we adults should never be afraid of challenging and stretching our children, that we’ll rarely be disappointed, that, given the right guidance and opportunities, kids will meet our high expectations again and again.

I’ve written about the importance of arts in education , and I’ve practiced what I’ve preached over a long career.  I’ve proudly encouraged arts education, promoted it, sat in the audience of numberless school and system-wide concerts, performances, and recitals.

But children learning during a night at the opera – this is new to me.  It shouldn’t be, when I consider it, though. 

  1. Opera is complex.  It requires complicated and deep thinking.  It demands a response.  In our “bullet point” age, some textured complexity is welcome.  Kids will immediately see the visual arts, dance, vocal and instrumental music, and literature all come together in opera. 
  2. Opera allows the kids to make connections across the disciplines.  The arts, history, and literature all combine to create something entirely new yet familiar.
  3. Opera requires audiences to be thoughtful and critical.
  4. Opera (and other theatrical experiences) requires a certain amount of self-discipline, preparation, and community protocol. 
  5. Opera involves universal themes that all of us, of all ages and diverse backgrounds, can recognize, relate to, respond to. 

We need to support just about anything that sparks children’s imaginations, that encourages them to explore new learning experiences, that exposes them to new appreciations, that lets them explore deep questions about right and wrong, that gives them opportunities to read, write, think, discuss, and grow.

All the arts can do this, but none of them is quite so large, so deep, so powerful as opera.  It doesn’t scare the kids.  Why should it scare us?

Is your city doing something similar to Baltimore’s “Opera in the Curriculum”?  Tell us about it.  We’d love to spread the word.


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