Opera Resources for Preschoolers: The Magic Flute

I picked opera as our music to work on this year and so far its been going really well. All of us are enraptured by it. The big shocker in that statement is how I'm able to include myself in that. I'm really trying to use these first few "gimme" years before school actually starts to focus on the things I feel weak on. I'm 99.9% positive that I'll never neglect math and science in our homeschooling times because those are my subjects and I love them way too much to let them fall through the cracks. But poetry? Classical music and composers? Picture study? Those are the things I don't feel confident about. So that's what we're starting. I can gain confidence when they are too little to see my fears. And so far it's working!

We started with The Magic Flute at the recommendation of a Classical Opera Teacher and fellow Charlotte Mason lover I was able to talk to at a recent CM conference. I came into this knowing absolutely nothing about the Magic Flute (or opera in general). But it hasn't let us down.

I'm not an expert, just a mom in a family who is known to start belting out "Pa-pa-pa!" at least once a day. I'm listing the resources we used in the order I introduced them because I think that was part of the key to our success. We started with a few songs, then the story then the longer musical versions.

You'll also notice that they tend to focus on Papageno and ignore Tamino and Pamina which might seem odd if you've only read the plot. But even my princess loving girl realizes that Papageno is the fun one. He's just such a kid-friendly character and his scenes tend to be low on the intensity level. Okay, disclaimers over - now on to the good stuff.

The Classical Child at the Opera album has a couple selections from The Magic Flute and it's available on Spotify which is a huge plus for me. Free is nice. I just started by playing those three
songs in with our other kid music. In a couple days, both kids were singing along because yes, they are just that catchy. 

For the full story, we read The Magic Flute: An Opera by Mozart. I know there are others (this one and it's in this collection which I hope to own someday) but I haven't read them. This one worked well with my young ones. Jonah could sit through it before he even turned 2 (but he really loves books so if you have a more wiggle worm listener, it might take you 2-3 sessions to finish). I think it would be great for an elementary student as well. The story is simplified but still makes sense, the pictures are colorful, fun and not too scary.

The Met's 2006 family version, a cut version sung in English (as are all the resources I've listed here) is my personal favorite of the bunch. We mostly watched with the Papageno scenes which I've shown below. And now when I turn on the computer, Jonah will often sit next to me and ask for Papageno.

 I can't say it is a very traditional production. The costumes and set design is very modern and at times, bizarre. One of the reasons I didn't like some of the other clips is the ladies of the night costumes, while not strictly immodest, have some interesting embellishments that I don't particular care for (as seen here). I'd really suggest you watch any of these beforehand as they do deal with the ideas of suicide and the, uhm, "making of baby chicks." I'm fine with how they are handling in this but you might not be.

There are more available on YouTube which you can easily find by searching and we've watched a couple but Nathan Gunn (the baritone who plays Papagano) really steals the show so the ones with him are the best. We've watched each of the ones above at least a dozen times each.

You can also watch the whole thing directly from the Met here for $3.99 for a month or for free if you sign up for a 7 day trial. We haven't yet but I'm thinking about renting it as a special treat for an upcoming family night.

The BBC video is one I wasn't sure if we would watch but then the kids got sick and we were all stuck in bed so it was this or another episode of Dinosaur Train. Truth be told, this one is a bit weird. The kids knew the story already and were still asking who or what the fat floating man was. On the plus side, you get to hear parts of a wider selection of songs and the kids did watch it. I wouldn't pay to watch it, but it's on YouTube so you don't have to.

The last resource is probably my kid's favorite. My mom gave me several of the Classic Kid series CDs that she used with my younger brother. We've tried listening to another (Mr. Bach Comes to Call) with Lucy and Jonah but they were having a hard time following the story. I didn't really expect them to take to Mozart's Magic Journey like they did but since I already had it, I had nothing to lose.

I'm not sure if it was because they already knew the story and some of the music before we tried this one or if its just an easier one to follow but this was a huge hit. As in, as soon as it ends, they ask for it again....and again.

I have a couple quibbles with it, mostly that the volume seems inconsistent and the Queen of the night songs seem faint. And I don't like there translations as well as the Met's version (The Met's = A cuddly wife or sweetheart is Papageno's wish vs MMJ = A girlfriend who will love me is what I wish I had) but that is me being picky. I like the way they brought in the extra character to help the kids follow along, explained the good guy/bad guy part well (something that can be confusing to little ones) and included short snippets of a number of songs even though its a fairly short version. Plus, as I said, the kids really really love it so if something ever happened to our CD, I would be purchasing a replacement right away.

That's about it. We didn't do any Magic Flute crafts or activities or themed snacks. Just listened, read and enjoyed. We really enjoyed it though. Up next - Hansel and Gretel!

Bonus for adults:

As I said, I've really gotten into this just as much as the kids. I want to watch the full Met show even if its still too long for them at this really young age. There is also the Kenneth Branagh version which I was curious about and recently found on YouTube. Reviews are mixed on his updating the setting but I might still check it out.

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