Bringing opera to kids...NOT!
Dad was out of town at a college reunion, so we decided to take a trip to the movies to see the new Harry Potter with friends. Lights go down, trailers start, and then...one began. A young lad is climbing out of a taxi, ubiqitous ominous music thudding under the images...well, you can see it for yourself.
And the girls are hissing "The Lightning Thief" at me, and they are excited! I mean super-beside-themselves happy. Green Day and Ugly Dolls all rolled into one happy! So, at the end of the Harry Potter film, which was okay, but not great (but I digress), I asked our daughters about this movie they were so het up about. "It's a series of books," said the younger one enthusiatically. "They're a little young, but fun," said the older one. So, having just finished my book about the art theft at the Isabelle Stewart Gardner museum and in dire need of something fun, I asked if I could read their copies.
As it turns out, the first book (which is The Lightning Thief) had to come from the library. So I waited a day or 3, biding my time with back issues of Sports Illustrated and New York Times crossword puzzles. And then Rick Riordan's first Percy Jackson offering materialized on my bed, as if by magic (or library page daughter). And it was great fun, and I laughed a lot, and I cried a little, and...I got to page 301. Percy and friends are in the Underworld, standing amid the spirits of Asphodel, watching them get sorted: stay in the fields, get whisked off to the Elysium Fields, or (cue the aforementioned ubiquitous ominous music), be sentenced to the Fields of Punishment. And then, I saw it:
"Even from far away, I could see people being chased by hellhounds, burned at the stake, forced to run naked through cactus patches or listen to opera music."
Well, okay then. After all the MET has done nationally and our Little Theatre locally to bring opera to the masses with their movies; after all we've heard about the need to bring classical music to younger audiences; after all From the Top has worked for all these years...and Rick Riordon cuts it down with one deadly swoop of the pen. And it's not just page 301, either. Toward the end, Riordan takes another swipe at opera, as Percy wishes his dreadful stepfather could be relegated to hell, forced to listen to opera while playing poker.
Now I can take a joke. I'm not some dour-faced purist. I do think, however, that Mr. Riordan's equation of opera with torture may have been a bit misguided, not to mention snarky. And as much as I enjoy a good snark now and then (as the above mentioned daughters can attest), it seems that the author of a best selling kid's book shouldn't go out of his way to take a cheap shot at an already maginalized art form. Let the kids hear it before telling them to avoid it. The Pirates of Penzance or The Magic Flute can thrill and amuse kids just as easily as Harry Potter...and you don't need ubiqitous ominous music to enjoy it.