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18.11.08

Opera for Kids: Carmen Look-In


Master Ionarts and Miss Ionarts survey the Opera House
Writing reviews every week means listening always with a critical ear, keeping in mind the best comparable performances. So it was a relief, on a Saturday morning outing with the kids, to think only of the fun part of going to the opera. This time it was the latest installment of Washington National Opera's Family Look-In series, a kids' digest form of one of the current productions, Bizet's Carmen. Young singers from the Domingo-Cafritz program gave plenty of energy and enthusiasm to the selected scenes, which included most of the tubes in this opera full of hits.

The best way to send the message that this kind of outreach program is important to the company is for the big names to pony up their time. That is just what the biggest kahuna of them all, General Director Plácido Domingo, did by appearing in person on the podium. Master Ionarts witnessed him conducting the Don Giovanni Look-In last year, but now Miss Ionarts can also say, later in life, that she saw Domingo in person. In addition, both children can say that they saw Denyce Graves, too, since the star of this production herself showed up to sing the Act I Séguedille. The newest and most exciting partnership of this Look-In brings together the WNO and Ms. Graves' alma mater, Duke Ellington School of the Arts (where Mrs. Ionarts also went to high school). Students in the school's technical theater department worked with the opera designers to create their own costumes for Carmen, which they presented during the Look-In.

The nuts-and-bolts side of opera production is an excellent way to make this larger-than-life genre seem as normal as any other type of entertainment. As was the case last year, Master Ionarts most enjoyed the presentation by the company's stage manager Beth Krynicki, who showed some of the tricks behind the set pieces, props, and lighting effects, as one of the scene changes took place with the curtain open. Although Miss Ionarts was frightened by the anger of Don Jose in the final scene ("He's not nice!"), neither child seemed too bothered by the murder of Carmen at the end, which was -- somewhat surprisingly -- included in the Look-In. (Two crying children did have to be carried out of the front section of the theater.) In a sense, most operas deal with adult themes, which were edited out in previous Look-Ins (no drugs in Porgy and Bess, for example), so there is only so much editing one can do. This became clear to me as I tried to explain the story of Carmen to the kids.

All in all, this Look-In was even more successful than previous ones. Maureen Bunyan from ABC 7 News was, once again, our excellent narrator. Both children thoroughly enjoyed the singing, as well as the conducting and clapping exercises led by Maestro Domingo, which culminated in a boy in the front row (who turned out to be a friend of ours) "conducting" the orchestra through a crescendo. With every seat in the house sold out, Washington National Opera continues to lay a strong foundation with the next generation of opera lovers.

3 comments:

Mark said...

What a cool Dad...

Anonymous said...

Good point at the begining. Sometimes I wonder whether we listen to music too intelectually rather than simply being absorbed by its beauty...

EV said...

The kids must have absorbed the murder concept later, as Miss Ionarts told me (Mrs. Ionarts) that the lady was dead and that the man was mean. Oh boy. Well, such is the price to be paid for exposing 4- and 6-year-olds to opera. I'll take that over Sponge Bob any day.