Make way for the factotum of the city

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One of the true pleasures of homeschooling has been to learn and explore for myself. Call it supply-side education; I believe that being a curious and passionate learner myself will trickle-down to my kids. So I’m happily going to all the museums and events and shows that I want to see and never normally get to.

Two notable recent examples: going to see The Barber of Seville and Kiss Me Kate.

I’ve always admired but never really got into opera. Classical music itself always required a certain sustained concentration for me to appreciate, and I’ve never really known enough about opera as a genre to know what I should be appreciating. I’m not one of those people that have an immediate visceral response to those vocal virtuosities.

When the OperaNoVA company put on The Barber of Seville for local schools and homeschooling groups, however, that gave me a chance to drag my kids into learning more.

I knew the Teaching Company had a course on appreciating opera (by Robert Greenberg), so I checked out portions of that from the library, along with some relevant books from the juvenile section. (The Random House Book of Opera Stories by Adele Geras and The Young Person’s Guide to the Opera).

I left the books in the car for my son to peruse, and I played the Greenberg lectures as we drove around. Learning by osmosis.

Just before the show, we watched two synopses of the plot on YouTube:

The show itself went out of its way to be kid-friendly. It started with an introduction of some of the instruments in the orchestra and their unique tonal qualities:

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And the performances emphasized physical humor and exaggerated gestures to make clear some of the developments in plot and relationships. The opera was also abridged and included some slightly bizarre surprises (like a child in a parrot costume), which nevertheless helped manage the attention of its young crowd.

Of course, it kept all the highlights of the opera, and I was impressed at the quality of all of the performers, particularly Figaro himself. It was a great introduction to the opera–for my kids and myself.

Unfortunately, I’m writing this a little too late; the run for The Barber of Seville is long over, but OperaNoVA’s web site states that they’re going to do Cosi Fan Tutte in February and an intriguing opera by Scott Joplin, Treemonisha, in March.

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I did less prep work for Kiss Me Kate, mostly because I already knew it so well. Call me bourgeois, but I’m a sucker for all things Shakespeare, and I used to teach Taming of the Shrew for several years. I could give them a rundown of the play–and the musical–off the top of my head.

Even before we saw the play, I signed us up to attend a Page & Stage discussion at the Shakespeare Theatre. It’s a sit-down panel discussion between the director of the show and a local scholar. Alan Paul, the director, gave a lot of great contextual information about the musical in particular and how he saw the influence of all of the original creatives in shaping the themes and subtext of the work. It was all a bit over the heads of my 7- and 2-year olds, but they managed, for the most part, to be a good sport about it.

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We got a ticket to a noon showing of the musical on a Wednesday. It’s a long show — two hours with an intermission in between — and it tested the antsiness of my kids, but they made it through and they enjoyed it.

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And I enjoyed it! It’s a really smart, snappy production — one of the best I’ve ever seen. The leads, in particular, are perfect, and the direction is really wonderful. I’m not sure I’d be able to see much improvement if I saw it on Broadway. I highly recommend it (even if you’re not homeschooling).

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