Stage & Screen
Opera: Epic Stories (with a teacher)
This activity is for classroom use. Your teacher will have further material to use alongside the clips and information below.
SECTION 1: Epics
An ‘epic’ ‘or ‘epic story’ is a story that is often based on a popular myth, legend or fairytale. Many opera stories are based on epics, and these help to make exciting productions. What do these stories have in common? Look at the image below, and see what else you can think of.
Your teacher will now give you an epic story from a famous opera, but the storyline has been jumbled up. Are you able to reorganise it so that the story makes sense?
SECTION 2: The basic plot
All of these stories have four main sections: a beginning, a rising action, a climax and a resolution. Can you connect each part of the story with the correct explanation?
Now go back to the stories that you put in order in Section 1, and label each part correctly (Beginning, Rising action, Climax and Resolution).
You are now going to hear the overture to each of these three operas. Which opera do you think each track belongs to and why?
SECTION 3: Setting a story to music
The following piece of music is part of an opera called The Magic Flute, composed by Mozart. Listen carefully to decide which part of the story you think it comes from and why. The singing is in German, but you don’t need to understand the language to find musical reasons for whereabouts this might go.
Think about what you know about the story and which character the music might be about.
Now you are going to watch another version of this aria, but this time as it is being acted on stage. We see Tamino first, and then along comes Papageno the bird-catcher. Why do you think the director has asked the members of the orchestra to flap paper? What could it represent?
The following piece of music is from the opera Cinderella, composed by Rossini. Listen carefully to decide which part of the story you think it comes from and why.
Here is a video clip from a real production of Cinderella – so you can see how this part of the story has been brought to life on the stage!
You have seen two video clips now – one from a production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute and one from a production of Rossini’s Cinderella. Which one do you like best, and why?
SECTION 4: Write your own epic!
In small groups you are going to create a mini-epic!
First, write a very basic plot, which has a beginning, rising action, climax and resolution.
Now choose one section from your plot and compose the music that would best fit the emotions and feelings of the character or characters at this point in the story.
Aria: A solo song for a character in an opera
Composer: A person who writes music
Dynamics: The volume (degrees of loud and quiet) in a piece of music
Libretto: The text of an opera or long vocal work
Overture: Orchestral music at the beginning of an opera
Pitch: Whether a note is high or low
Rhythm: A combination of notes that are of different lengths or durations
Tempo: The speed of a piece of music
All media credits – titles, composers, artists, sources etc. – may be found in the Teacher Sheet, accessed from the Info box at the top of this page.