A Child’s Night at the Opera

I love taking my children to unlikely kid-friendly events, almost as a challenge to see what they’re capable of understanding and enjoying. Sometimes it’s a disaster, other times it’s a shocking success. I love the challenge so much, I’ve decided to start a new series about it on Elizabeth Street. To kick off the experiment, I took my 7-year-old daughter Ella to see the Barber of Seville at the Metropolitan Opera.

Oh, the opera. It’s known to be long, confusing, and boring not only to kids, but to adults! I knew if I was going to make this work, I had to have a plan. Here’s some of the things I did to make our night out special.

#1 Build Anticipation.  For years, I’ve taken my daughter for walks around the Metropolitan Opera. We’ve strolled in the lobby, admired the gigantic Chagall paintings in the entryway and got a partial glimpse of the amazing chandeliers. I always told Ella that someday, we’ll get tickets and get to walk into the building. We’ll see all the chandeliers, hear fabulous singers, and admire the beautiful costumes.  When the day finally arrived, she was stoked.

#2 Timing is everything. I waited to take my daughter to the opera until she was seven-years-old. At this age, she can sit still for two hours, but more importanly, she can read. I found reading an important skill because she could follow the story on the subtitles placed on the seatback screens. We love this feature at the Met.

#3. Choose the Right. While there’s a ton of operas to choose from, I made sure I bought tickets for one that was not only in English, but also only two hours long. I don’t know if that was more for my daughter or me! The Barber of Seville was marketed as an opera for kids. It seemed like the perfect fit, so I went for it.

#4 Make it a solo event. I have three kids under the age of 7. Events like this require a lot of supervision on my part. Even with my husband, it’s hard to give all my kids the attention they require. I decided it would be best just to take one child and leave the other ones with my husband at home. Another option is to get a babysitter for the kids and take one child out for a date. How often do my kids get to spend time alone with the parents? I can’t even think of one time! This would be a wonderful experience to keep in mind for the future.

#5 Hit the Books. I’ve attended one opera in my whole life. I obviously don’t know anything about it. Before I taught Ella anything, I needed to do some research.  I found some great resources not only for kids, but for parents and teachers like myself.  A lot of sites have study guides and music to download.   Here is a great one from the Met. This one is great for older kids. And finally, this article is packed with links.

#6 Give Options. I rented binoculars ($5) and pick up a seat cushion (free) for Ella. Ask your opera house if they have these perks. If you can’t rent binoculars, buy a pair. Binoculars made all the difference in the world. She could simply watch the show, watch the show through binoculars, or read the subtitles. These options were just enough to keep her entertained for the two hour performance.

#7 Take Full Advantage of Intermission. We ate cookies, went to the bathroom, walked the stairs, talked about the show, and peeked at other people’s vantage points. When she saw the box seats, she asked, “How do people get those?!” Good question. I told her sometimes companies buy them for their employees and sometimes people just buy them for fun! She thought this was the best idea ever. Maybe someday we’ll have to splurge!

#8 Make it memorable. When the night was over, I presented Ella with something to remember the night.  When I was recently gifted the Swarovski’s 2012 Christmas Ornament, I knew this was what I wanted to give her. Am I shamelessly admitting to regifting? Yes! But I couldn’t resist. It reminded me of the beautiful chandlers we spent so much time admiring over the years. I thought it was a way to take the opera home with us.

Overall, this experiment was a success. I came home glowing because our night was so magical. My daughter enjoyed dressing up and being apart of an activity that mostly grown-ups get to enjoy. She felt so sophisticated! I can’t wait to try this again. Next up? Perhaps the NYC ballet with my 5-year-old son. I’ll keep you posteda