OPERA FOR THE ENTIRE FAMILY: THE SIZZLING SUMMER EDITION

by Megan Meister

By Suzanne Calvin

We hope that by the time you read this, you’ve already received your brochure covering the fun-filled, free (or inexpensive) events that make up TDO’s exciting summer@theopera.  And there are lots of things geared towards couples and families just like yours, including campTDO and performances of Bizet’s charming Doctor Miracle for just $5 per person at Dallas Children’s Theater.

But summers are mighty long here in Texas, so, we want to lend a hand in your quest to keep the teens and tweens in your household from tweeting their thumbs off between now and Labor Day.  Here’s a little list of summer opera, operetta and musical adventures that offer quality family time out of the heat, available online and elsewhere:

LA FILLE DU RÉGIMENT (2008) There are several terrific versions of Donizetti’s comedy out there, but this Royal Opera production starring Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Flórez is not only beautifully sung, it’s irresistibly silly.  Young ones will enjoy the slapstick and the rambunctious characters, older kids will be in on all the sly jokes.  Sung in French with subtitles.

INTO THE WOODS (1991) Stephen Sondheim at his best in this intriguing look at familiar fairy tale characters living “happily ever after”?  Brilliant performances—especially from Bernadette Peters (the witch) and Joanna Gleason (the Baker’s wife)—wonderful songs and thoughtful life lessons make it easy to see why this remains a Tony Award winning favorite after more than two decades.

CAROUSEL (2006) The 50th Anniversary Blu-ray of this Rogers and Hammerstein classic is gorgeous and beautifully sung by a cast headed by Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones.  So, you can use “The Patridge Family” to lure the nay-sayers into the media room.  One unforgettable song after another in this poignant tale of love found, lost, and eternal.

THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE (1983) Joseph Papp’s broad take on an A1 Gilbert and Sullivan operetta went from Broadway to the movie screen with stellar performances by Kevin Kline as the Pirate King, Linda Ronstadt at Mabel, Rex Smith as Frederic, and Angela Lansbury as Ruth.  Superior supporting cast as well.  This one is a big hit with younger kids as well, who love the visual comedy, the patter songs, and rousing pirate choruses! Arghh!

CENDRILLON (2012) Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato makes an enchanting Cinderella in this Covent Garden production.  As she will be singing the lead in the 2015 Dallas Opera world premiere of Great Scott, it’s all the more reason to sit back and enjoy her splendid performance in Massenet’s version of the familiar romantic tale.  Also starring Polish contralto Ewa Podles—already well known to Dallas Opera audiences—as the wicked stepmother.   Sung in French with subtitles.

LABYRINTH (2009) The late Jim Henson’s 1986 Muppet-infested fairy tale belatedly released to DVD works chiefly because he’s given us compelling live actors to latch onto: a very young Jennifer Connelly as our heroine and music legend David Bowie (I side-stepped a music classification because Bowie has never fit neatly into anybody’s niche) as the mysterious Goblin King who has done just what the frustrated teen asked—kidnapped her annoying baby brother!  Songs by Bowie throughout, Labyrinth sports a dark yet fun Henson view of the world and a host of memorable characters (I love the swashbuckling dog in the eye patch, myself).  Best of all, good lessons about putting up with the ones we love.

IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA (2010) How could we talk about family friendly operas and musicals without mentioning Rossini?  The problem is: which Rossini masterpiece and which production?  Although there are no easy answers, one of the best is this version of his “Barber of Seville” starring Kathleen Battle in her prime, Rockwell Blake, Enzo Dara, and Leo Nucci in the title role live at New York’s Metropolitan Opera.  Enough said.

THE MUSIC MAN (2010 Blu-ray) I’m always surprised to discover how few young people have ever seen The Music Man.  Although by anyone’s standards, it’s a highly nostalgic and sentimental portrait of small town Midwestern life a hundred years ago, Meredith Willson’s music is so infectious and the lyrics so clever at defining time, place and character, that it still brings a smile to world-weary adults.  Fabulous performances by Robert Preston as the quintessential conman and Shirley Jones as Marian the Librarian (ah, if only Barbara Cook…) after which we quickly descend into a host of eye-rolling 60s character actors.  A hefty slice of Americana and a good pick for Fourth of July viewing.

THE MAGIC FLUTE (1975) Saving what some consider the best for last, there’s the Criterion Collection disc of Mozart’s The Magic Flute filmed by Ingmar Bergman at Stockholm’s Drottningham Theatre.  However, that hardly tells the tale.  The iconic Swedish director intermittently takes us backstage for a hilariously human look at what goes on behind the scenery, as well as out into the audience to see the impact of the masterpiece through the eyes of those caught up in the action.  Sung in Swedish (now, that’s different!) with English language subtitles.

And, for those times when you’d rather listen than watch (or better yet, sing along!) there’s a still readily available 2003 CD entitled “The World’s Very Best Opera for Kids…in English!” with music by Mozart, Rossini, Puccini, Wagner, Offenbach and more performed in English and perfect for backseat songfests.  Why, you could even play it enroute to camp TDO or one of our summer@theopera performances of Doctor Miracle!  Aren’t you glad I thought of that?

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