Opera in the classroom

Opera is a wonderfully diverse art form that offers a wealth of opportunities across many curriculum Learning Areas. Have you considered the ways you can use opera in the classroom?

Take a look at the table below that outlines the Learning Areas that form the F-10 Victorian Curriculum. How many of these would you link to opera?

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It may surprise you to find out that most of them do either individually or in combination. Doubtful? Here’s how.

Science

Have you ever been in the same room as an opera singer singing at their loudest? You can feel the air physically shift as the power of their voice goes through you. You may or may not know that opera singers are not amplified during performances, what you’re hearing is their bare voice, raw and evocative in every way. It’s important to remember that sometimes singers are performing in venues that seat up to 3,000 people. So how is this done? They rely on the support of their diaphragm combined with certain vocal techniques such as vibrato, to ensure that their voices reach the people sitting in the very back row. Furthermore, the science of sound has a role to play as well, depending on the quality of acoustics in the venue. As a classroom topic in Science, you could use opera and opera singers as a case study to explore acoustics and the physics of sound.

Humanities

This Learning Area explores differences in society: who we are, where we’ve come from and what we’ve gone through. Throughout its history, opera has been used as a platform to comment or reflect on moments in time that have affected humanity. A great example is Gioachino Rossini’s William Tell which tells the story of a small village in Switzerland that fights for its freedom and independence from Austrian oppressors. While the figure of William Tell is historic to today’s audiences, the subject matter of liberation from oppression is still easily identifiable in many parts of the world. The ability that music and the voice have to convey the emotional impact of war and injustice on any society is palpable in Rossini’s composition. The video below, taken from the finale of William Tell, is an emotional portrayal of the community’s liberation from their oppressors. 

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English

In the study of English, specifically the Literacy strand, students are taught the aesthetic values of language; that is, how different language forms and styles can be used to have an emotional, intellectual or philosophical effect on their reader, thereby deepening their understanding of human experience. Opera is a study of human experience and the type of language used to convey this experience is emotional, intellectual and philosophical, which lends well to developing your students’ literacy. It’s not uncommon for texts to be adapted for opera. Victorian Opera’s new commission for 2020, Three Tales, based on the stories of Gustave Flaubert, is a perfect example. A comparative study could be undertaken by your students, that compares the operatic adaptation of the text with its original, exploring the ways in which the aesthetic value of its language has changed by its delivery through voice and music.

Languages

Italian, German, French and even Spanish and Russian are languages commonly heard in opera and incorporating the librettos (scripts) in your lesson plans make for wonderful exercises in their respective Language classrooms. Not only can you look at different forms and traditions in literature, French Symbolism for example, but you can also study the essence of opera within the respective culture. Want to get your students practising their analytical and conversation skills at the same time? A post-performance review, either written or spoken, is a great activity that will expand their vocabulary and increase their confidence in discussing the performing arts. Victorian Opera’s Season 2020 features operas in German, French and English.

The Arts

Finally, it goes without saying that opera very easily links to The Arts, but did you know it links to the majority of disciplines within this area? Dance, Drama, Media Arts, Music and Visual Communication Design can all be found in opera.

Take Salome by Richard Strauss for example, a work Victorian Opera will be staging in February 2020. Within 90 minutes, students can experience the amalgamation of all five above-mentioned disciplines. Music and Drama are, of course, central to this work as they are to any opera: singers and an orchestra are required for performances, as is the interpretation and staging of a libretto. One of the most pivotal scenes in Salome is the iconic ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’. The singer cast in the role of Salome is often required to perform this dance, being an important moment in the opera for the character.

Visual Communication Design draws on (quite literally) the set and costume designs, while Media Arts deals with the importance of lighting design. Many believe that the lighting design for any work, be it opera or theatre, is the element that completes the work, transporting audiences to the world unfolding before them. Furthermore, costume, set and lighting design, requires the designer to have an understanding of Mathematics, which cleverly links to that Learning Area as well.

The addition of any production from Victorian Opera’s Season 2020 to lesson plans within The Arts various disciplines can be used in classroom activities that analyse the use of music, text, dance and design to develop interpretative skills essential to aspiring musicians, singers, actors, dancers, directors and designers.

With an array of works suitable for varying year levels, there is much on offer in Victorian Opera’s Season 2020 to shake up the way you deliver your classroom lesson plans. A lot of fun can be had and you’re invited to explore the potential of this wonderful art form within your classroom next year.