A popular trend is for very young children, even as young as age 10, to learn and perform opera arias on reality television talent shows. One could argue that these kids are talented, and for the most part that is true, as they wouldn’t be able to produce those tones if they weren’t naturally gifted.
However, that does not mean that they should sing music ill-suited to their voices, regardless if they are perceived as “prodigies.”
Here are a few reasons which would preclude teaching young children opera arias:
- The subject matter for most arias is not appropriate for children, who have not had the life experience reflected in the words. Just because a melody is beautiful does not mean that the song can be communicated properly. And, the melody should never “hide” behind words in a foreign language. Someone out there will understand what the child is singing.
- The physical demands placed on the larynx to sing a song that is vocally difficult can actually cause harm to the child’s vocal apparatus. Most people don’t realize that the cartilage in the larynx is still pliable, and it does not afford the same stability to the vocal cords as it does in adults. There needs to be strength in the vocal instrument, but some of that simply comes with age.
- In order for the child to sing the song, they lower the key. If the child is unable to sing the song in the original key, then they shouldn’t be singing it at all. The composers composed for the mature adult voice and took great care to express emotions in various parts of the vocal range.
- Children have begun to sing songs by characters of the opposite sex just because the melody is pretty or has a big high note at the end. However, every operatic song was written for a specific character to sing in the midst of a theatrical drama as part of the story. The most famous aria like this being performed these days is “Nessun dorma” from the opera Turandot by Puccini. Here is a description the aria, and one can understand why it is ridiculous for a young girl to sing this.
Calaf, a prince, challenges the princess Turandot to find out his name by morning. If she can’t, he wins her hand, if not, she will execute him. The princess declares that no one will sleep – nessun dorma – until she learns his name. Calaf sings that his secret is hidden within him, and at dawn he will win — “vincero!”
Nessun dorma! Nessun dorma!
No one will sleep, No one will sleep
You too, oh Princess, in your cold room,
Tu pure, o, Principessa, nella tua fredda stanza,
guardi le stelle che tremano d’amore e di speranza.
you watch the stars that tremble with love and hope.
Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me, il nome mio nessun saprà!
But my mystery is hidden within me, my name no one will know.
No, no, sulla tua bocca lo dirò quando la luce splenderà!
No, no, upon your lips to I will say how much the light will shine.
Ed il mio bacio scioglierà il silenzio che ti fa mia!
And my kiss will dissolve the silence that makes you mine.
Dilegua, o notte! Tramontate, stelle! All’alba vincerò!
Vanish, oh night! Set, stars! At sunrise I will win!