'A Family Affair': Top Five Family Friendly Operas

Wednesday 18 April 2018

I’ve always been interested in the way that opera combines instrumental and vocal music, as well as adding theatrics and creating a full production. I would not have been so enthusiastic about classical music today, if it wasn’t for my mum introducing me at an early age. There are so many operas which are family-friendly, that keep the children entertained, whilst also keeping the adults interested, so there is no reason you shouldn’t look out for a local production near you!

ETO's Silver Electra © Richard Hubert Smith
ETO’s Silver Electra © Richard Hubert Smith

Here are my top five family-friendly opera picks:

1. Engelbert Humperdinck – Hansel and Gretel (1893)

Perhaps one of his most famous and well-loved works, Humperdinck’s version of the Grimm Brothers fairy tale Hansel and Gretel, is a fantastic starting point for a family interested in opera. Hansel and Gretel is fast-paced in its story, and the playful child protagonists are the key to the innocence of this opera. Humperdinck’s music is wonderfully bound within this work, and with its relatively short performance time, this opera is sure to keep you on your toes. Watch a clip of it here

2. Oliver Knussen – Where The Wild Things Are (1983)

This one-act opera is a fantasy extravaganza that was born from Maurice Sendak’s timeless children’s book of the same name. The opera follows Max, a boy who dresses in a wolf suit, who is confined to his room by his ‘Mama’. The dreamworld that Max then enters sees his adventure to the island of the ‘Wild Things’. Knussen’s colourful scoring takes the audience into Max’s dreamworld, making this opera a must-see family favourite. Watch more of this opera here

3. Jonathan Dove – The Adventures of Pinocchio (2007)

After being commissioned by Opera North in 2007, Jonathan Dove created a fun two-act opera based on the Italian novel by the same name. This well-known story of a wooden boy and his adventures of becoming a real boy is both charming and clever in its construction, creating an interactive opera for all the family. Interested? Look at more of this opera here

4. Rachel Portman – The Little Prince (2003)

Subtitled ‘A Magical Opera’, Rachel Portman’s The Little Prince is captivatingly simple, accessible and charming for both adults and children. Based on the book of the same name by Antoine de Saint-Expuréry, it is about space and meeting new people on exciting expeditions. The opera sees humans and animals working together on adventures, but with the real morals dealing with human relationships. Watch more of The Little Prince by clicking here.  

5. Russell Hepplewhite – Shackleton’s Cat (2015)

Shackleton’s Cat was commissioned by English Touring Opera in 2015, to be a part of their education programme for young people. It’s the latest in a successful line of new operas, which has included Laika the Space Dog and Borka the Goose with No Feathers. The story follows the voyage and destruction of the Endurance 100 years ago, and the fight for survival by a captain and his pioneering crew. With an immersive set, and an adorable cat puppet, this is opera is designed to be enjoyed by families with their children (aged 7-11).  Shackleton’s Cat is touring all over the United Kingdom as a part of our Spring 18 season. To find out where you can see a production, click here.


Shackleton's Cat © Robert Workman

This list certainly does not cover the full scope of family-friendly operas, however the above operas are a great place to start. Engaging young people in opera is essential to their musical development, and will hopefully keep them engaged for life!

Discover more: whatson.englishtouringopera.org.uk

© Alex Burns 2018
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