Teens are perfect audience at opera


POSTED: Sunday, February 22, 2009

Another opera season is under way, and I am racing around organizing tickets for kids.

Hawaii Opera Theatre encourages students to attend the final dress rehearsal for only $6, but the organization of chaperones and worries about the potential for disaster (anyone who has ever tried going somewhere with hundreds of adolescents can sympathize) are all problematic in the enterprise to expose kids to high art.

However, I just love opera so I persevere. An evening spent with lovely music, beautiful costumes, talented musicians and great singers just can't be anything but wonderful.

Many of my students become lifelong opera fans after attending just once, and they drag their friends to subsequent performances.

The fun thing is that student audiences are completely spontaneous. They laugh at all the sight gags, and they boo at the villains. The “;real”; opera audience that attends the opening two days later doesn't respond as viscerally.

I remember one wonderful scene with three mostly naked tenors singing along to jiggling belly fat. The student audience was rolling in the aisles howling with laughter on Wednesday, but on Friday night the adults were trying to figure out whether this was meant to be funny.

After all, is there a place for slapstick in what is meant to be high culture? My students definitely think so — and the singers of opera love hamming it up for the teenage crowd.

One of my students even brought paper and wrote down all the love lines — he said he was going to use them on his girlfriend, and his favorite of the evening was, “;Your breasts are like doves.”; He told me that his girlfriend was really going to like that one!

It always amazes me how well behaved students are at the opera. They sit patiently during the musical numbers, applaud loudly after the arias and are respectful and attentive for the three-plus hours that an opera takes.

For the Twitter generation, giving that much time to one thing is a definite commitment, yet every year many students attend all three operas and line up for more the following year.

Opera represents all of the arts in that it amuses, angers, saddens and enriches. The arts express both the best and worst of human nature and expose young people to what is possible for any of us to achieve and be.

It's so sad that as a society we seem to value test scores more than the opportunity for kids to see and experience the range of human emotion.

Why isn't it important to expose kids to beautiful music, crafted scenery and the whole complex environment of high-level art? Why is so little value placed on educating kids to aesthetics?

No Pythagorean theorem ever brought me to tears (except the score on my math test, maybe), and so year after year, I take kids to opera.


Hawaii Opera Theatre's final production of the season will be “;Carmen,”; opening Friday. Call 596-7858 or visit www.hawaiiopera.org.


Cristina Rathyen teaches English at Moanalua High School. “;The Goddess Speaks”; is a feature by and about women. Essays of about 500 words may be sent to “;The Goddess Speaks,”; 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, Honolulu 96813; or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).