5 Family-Friendly Operas to Watch Over the Holiday Break

By Francisco Salazar

The holidays are upon us and most will be together to celebrate them. There will a lot of downtime and this will give families a chance to catch up on movies or simply relax and listen to some great music. For families interested in enjoying an opera together,  the following is a list of works that family and holiday friendly and will definitely not ruin the mood of the holiday season.

Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”

Witches, magic and fantastical journeys are some of the elements in Mozart’s mystical work. The opera features some of Mozart’s most popular arias and duets and the lightness of the opera has allowed companies to adopt children’s versions. It has even been translated numerous times into English.

Recommended Recordings: The Metropolitan Opera has an abridged version in English in Julie Taymor’s beautiful production. It is family-friendly as it cuts a number of parts making for a brief but fulfilling experience. It also features a stellar cast that includes Matthew Polenzani, Rene Pape and  Nathan Gunn.

Puccini’s “La Boheme”

So this one might dampen the holiday mood, but if you sit through Acts 1 and 2 and avoid the final two, then you will get your share of smiles.

Of course you could sit through the entire thing as everyone loves a great romance and Puccini’s timeless classic is the most popular opera in the repertoire. The work’s rich music features some of the most unforgettable arias and duets and is a great gateway into Puccini’s more dramatic work. It also doesn’t hurt that it is set during the Holidays so it helps set the spirit of the holidays.

Recommended Recordings: For those interested in listening to the work, Victoria de Los Angeles and Jussi Bjorling’s recording is the definitive version and it beautifully captures the composer’s intentions. But for those who want a definitive viewing experience look to Neil Shicoff and Ileana Cortrubas’ recording from the Royal Opera House.

Humperdinck’s ‘Hansel and Gretel”

What better work for children than an opera about children getting captured by a witch and having to escape? Humperdinck’s opera is a classic for the holiday season and it is also one that has been translated to many languages to be more accessible for families.

Recommended Recordings: Two recordings stick out. The first is from the Royal Opera House with Diana Damrau, who eats up the stage and really creates the illusion of being a young girl. The DVD is conducted by the late Colin Davis. The second DVD comes from the Metropolitan Opera with Federica Von Stade and Judith Blegen. This classic recording features one of the most beautiful sets created at the Met and of course some great singing.

Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus”

What a better way to celebrate the holiday season than with waltzes and a hilarious comedy? Like many of the aforementioned works, this operetta has been translated into various languages and its texts have been changed to suit modern audiences. But what makes this operetta so worthwhile is the catchy melodies and the lightning speed plot that is always taking unexpected twists and turns and keeping the audience entertained.

Recommended recordings: The Royal Opera House has a classic performance with Kiri Te Kanawa and Herman Prey conducted by Placido Domingo. The recording messes with all expectations as singers improvise arias from other works and there are even special guests that light up the recording. More interesting is that it was a New year’s Eve gala so it is apparent why the cast is having such a great time.

Rossini’s “Il Barbiere di Siviglia”

It’s hard to go wrong Rossini’s classic featuring the famous “Largo al Factotum.” Not only does it include some opera’s most famous tunes but it also features an incredibly hilarious libretto that will have families laughing out loud as they watch.

Recommended Recordings: Juan Diego Florez has three recordings of this piece. One on CD with legendary soprano Edita Gruberova. This is a gem which features vocal fireworks everywhere. The other two are DVD recordings. Depending on what production you prefer, there is a modernistic and minimalist production from the Royal Opera House and another more classic production from the Teatro Real. Both recordings are undeniably unique experiences. The Royal Opera House recording features Joyce DiDonato in a wheelchair while the other features Maria Bayo in her prime. Juan Diego is fantastic in both.


Special Features