The real reason to bring teens to the opera

The real reason to bring teens to the opera

Jenna Simeonov

An “opera dad” over at The Economist recently took is teenaged daughter to see the cinema broadcast of David McVicar’s production of Rigoletto for Covent Garden:

“Had we been sat in the opera house itself, she would probably have seen only a faint blur of nudity in the distance. However, we were watching a live telecast at our local cinema, so she saw gigantic close-ups of quivering nipples and flexing buttocks. She thought it highly amusing. It was followed by three hours of licentiousness and blood—like ‘Game of Thrones’, but with a less credible plot. In other words, a typical night at the opera. What kind of a terrible dad would subject his children to this art form?”

The author, in his article, “Opera’s awful role models and the #MeToo moment”, certainly picked a doozy. For a father-daughter outing, Rigoletto has the potential to hit close to home - or to be a cautionary tale of a malformed familial relationship.

But like most art, opera is decidedly full of questionable stuff:

“Nearly all the great operas are crammed with gore, crudity and all the things from which right-thinking parents seek to shield their precious progeny. And the main characters, especially the female ones, make appalling role models.”

Despite all that, the “opera dad” rightly concludes that the opera is still a great place for teenagers, and that there are three reasons to bring them:

  • A show like *Rigoletto* can demonstrate the dangers of helicopter parenting and of sheltering one's children.
  • Opera can introduce to teens the idea of "honey-voiced but duplicitous seducers": folks like the Duke of Mantua, Scarpia, or even Pinkerton, who say the right thing in front of their prey, and then prove themselves to be nasty individuals.
  • Through opera, teenagers can get a history lesson. In particular, they can weigh their own ideas of morality (is a woman truly "ruined" if she loses her virginity before marriage?) against those of centuries past.

This is a decent list of reasons to bring your teen to the opera. It’s fair to add that opera is not the only place to learn these things; the list above is an argument for getting teenagers excited about reading, going to museums, and yes, watching well-written film and television.

There’s one more benefit, though, perhaps one that’s more for the opera creators than for the teens in the audience:

Teenagers are a brutally honest audience demographic.

I’m not about to say that the opinions of people aged 13-19 are the best critics of something like opera; let’s not leave our precious art form solely in the hands of the volatile youth.

But teenagers certainly aren’t about to forgive a silly plot, or laughably bad acting, or a nonsensical production. They may not be entirely just in their outrage, but many singers, directors, and opera companies could likely benefit from putting the critique of teenagers at the top of the pile.

If a “concept production” of, say, La bohème on the moon ends up looking hastage #lameaf, is there not something there for the opera lobbyists to learn from?

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