Mark Delavan, our "Nabucco," greets Stephanie Alford and her daughters Edith (front left) and Eleanor (front right) at the Benedum Center on October 18.
We get asked about bringing kids to the opera all the time.
Knowing that all kids are different, our stock answer is pretty much a composite of what’s found on our Opera FAQs page:
The main thing is that your child should be able to sit quietly for long periods of time. Third or fourth graders are usually fine, but parents are the best judge. Kids do best if you prepare them in advance. Tell them the story of the opera, play some of the music, or check out a video from the library. Have your little Warhols and Cassatts draw pictures of their favorite characters or imagine what the set might be like.
Some operas – OK, most operas – have adult themes. Murder, revenge, lust – all that stuff that grown-ups find so interesting.
The Alfords check in backstage.
And with that last sentence, we introduce you to Eleanor and Edith Alford, ages 10 and 8, daughters of Stephanie Alford. Stephanie plans to bring Eleanor and Edith to all of our mainstage operas this year, and she brought them to visit NABUCCO star Mark Delavan backstage at the October 18 matinee.
The girls’ first live opera was our 2012 Tosca, when Eleanor was 6 ½ and Edith had just turned 5. Afterward, Eleanor sent Mr. Delavan a fan letter because the villainous Scarpia is one of her favorite characters. Edith drew a picture of herself as Tosca, with brightly colored hair (“I think it was purple”). Mark Delavan wrote back to thank them, and the girls also saw him as Rigoletto in 2013. When the plan was set in motion for the girls to meet Mr. Delavan, we asked what their expectations would be. Eleanor said, “He's so scary! I think he's going to look kind of weird because I know he'll have heavy make-up on, but I hope he's a nice person.” Edith mused: “I think he'll be nice, although he murders people in operas.”
Mark Delavan with the Alford girls
He was indeed a nice person, and excited to meet perhaps his youngest Pittsburgh fans at the Benedum Center. The conversation ranged from playing musical instruments (Edith plays guitar and violin and wants to learn French horn; Eleanor plays oboe, viola, and guitar), why movie villains have British accents (consider Loki from The Avengers, Scar from The Lion King, and some Star Wars villains), learning new languages, martial arts, and how to deal with nervousness before performances. (Yes, Mark Delavan gets nervous.)
The Alford girls usually prepare for operas before they attend, whether it’s a drama like NABUCCO or an especially family-friendly show like La cenerentola (2013). "Mum reads us the synopsis for our bedtime story for a few days before we go and then we talk about it. Mum also goes to see the opera first and so we can look at her program and see who's in the opera," said Eleanor. Edith looks online for musical samples or listens to the Pittsburgh Opera season preview CD, which contains audio samples and narration by General Director Christopher Hahn.
Nabucco poster at the Benedum
Plans are for Edith and Eleanor to attend the rest of our mainstage season, which includes COSÌ FAN TUTTE, THE BARBER OF SEVILLE, and THE RAKE'S PROGRESS. Think for a moment: while THE BARBER OF SEVILLE is a comedy, and it inspired a classic Bugs Bunny cartoon, there are definitely some, ahem, "adult themes" going on in all of the operas. Mum Stephanie plans to prepare them as she has for other operas that include murder, lust, you name it. Eleanor is excited to see THE RAKE'S PROGRESS because “it’s another guy who wants too many girlfriends – I think he’ll get punished just like Don Giovanni!” Edith declared NABUCCO her early favorite for the season, “because the guy who wrote it – his operas always stick in my mind.”
Eleanor and Edith were hard-pressed to choose just 3 top favorite operas.
· Eleanor: "Oh my goodness, that's so hard! I like Otello, Aida, and Tosca, because they are all so dramatic! Oh, and I also loved the end of Don Giovanni, when he dies. My favorite for the music is Aida -- it's so strong. Actually, I like them all for the music. It's so hard to choose!"
· Edith: "Madama Butterfly, Carmen, and Tosca. For Madama Butterfly, I think the singing and music is really beautiful, and the same for Tosca. Carmen just because I really like it. And all of them have dramatic death scenes!"
So, having met the Alford girls in person and having learned their fondness for drama and murder, and the music that goes with drama and murder, we're going to stick with our recommendation in the Opera FAQs: parents are the best judge.
Our thanks to Stephanie Alford, who reported via Twitter that she and Eleanor and Edith "completely thoroughly enjoyed Nabucco @PittsburghOpera."