I began with worksheets on the history of opera and types of operas. Then we moved on to study the stories of 5 different operas, followed by a listening lab on one of the more famous arias from each opera. I live in a rural county. The closest thing to opera any of these students had ever seen or heard was their grandparents’ reminiscences of Minnie Pearl and the Grand Ol’ Opry. The answers I received on many of the listening labs often made me laugh out loud and taught me a lot about perspective.
“Nessun dorma” from Turandot: (All the recordings were in the original language of the opera.) On the question, “Describe the melody,” a 6 year old wrote, “Sounds Italian to me.” How could I argue with that?
Another question attempted to point out the emotion in the singers’ voices by asking, “Where in the music do you think he sings, ‘I will win! I will win!’?” Though it was in Italian it was obvious; even the 6 year old got it. But one 10 year old thoroughly misunderstood the question and wrote, “I don’t know, but he was so loud, he MUST have been outside somewhere.”
“La donna mobile” from Rigoletto: “What are the main difficulties of this aria?” A 9 year old answered, “He’s trying to get a woman, but can’t.”
We could not have left out Carmen, though presenting this less than moral character to children took a bit of discretion. We listened to the “Habanera,” which is, in reality, a dance. “Carmen likes to flirt a lot. How does the fact that she is singing to a dance make it sound ‘flirty?’” A 9 year answered, “It shows she’s pretty smart if she can sing a dance!”
Because the majority of my singers were 14-16 year old girls, I chose Charlotte Church’s recording over Maria Callas’s version of Carmen. Charlotte was only 15 at the time and I felt they could better relate to her. However, this brought about the question, “How is her ability to sing this character likely to change as she gets older?” Talk about perspective, a 9 year old boy wrote, “She’ll soon be married and she’d better not be flirting with other men!!!!” But a 16 year old girl wrote--now remember Charlotte was only 15 on this recording--“It won’t be long till she is so old she won’t even remember how to flirt any more.”
Was this notebook successful? When I took up the final exams I wondered. The first question was “Define opera.” An 11 year old wrote, “A type of music for men and women where you sing real LOUD.”
But I also had them write, both at the beginning of the study and at the end, what they honestly thought about opera. One 14 year old was very tactful at the beginning of the year when she wrote, “I think people who can sing it are very talented.” But at the end of the year she wrote, “If this is opera, I really like it. And I learned not to ever say I don’t like something when I don’t really know anything about it.”
I wonder how many people approach the Bible that way? They believe it to be a book of myths, a storybook, only a suggestion for how to live, anything but the Word of God when they have absolutely no personal knowledge on the subject. They have never considered the evidence; they have never made comparisons to other ancient writings that are far less convincing. We have only 643 copies of Homer’s Iliad but over 5700 copies of the scriptures, and no one ever questions the completeness and accuracy of that Greek epic. We believe George Washington existed and became our first president. Why? Because of eyewitness accounts, the same type of accounts available in historical documents about Jesus. Even people who accept Jesus as the Son of God, question the validity of the New Testament because it was a translation, yet Jesus himself quoted a translation of the Old Testament, one about as far removed from him in time as the New Testament is from us, and all this barely skims the surface of internal and external evidences validating the Bible.
My students learned a valuable lesson the year we studied opera: don’t judge until you check it out yourself. If you are wondering about the Bible, about Jesus, and even about the existence of a Creator, the only logical and fair thing is for you to do that too.
For the word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the discernment of the discerning will I bring to nought. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God's good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe. 1 Corinthians 1:18-21