Cross-Curricular - Make overtures

29th March 2013 at 00:00
Students create their own opera and learn it is an art form for all

Opera has long been thought elitist. So how do you persuade 14-year-olds to engage with an art form that originated in late 16th-century Italy and is often sung in another language? What makes opera different from other musicals? And how would the uninitiated compose one?

Step forward the Royal Opera House, which is working to bring opera into the classroom through a professional development course that offers teachers new skills, resources and inspiration for using the art form across the curriculum.

This August, for the second year running, teachers can attend Write an Opera, a week-long residential programme at Dartington Hall in Devon. The course includes workshops in lighting, set design, music, drama and singing.

Teachers learn how to write the synopsis for an opera, under guidance from Royal Opera House professionals, and return to their schools to create an opera with their students.

Vanessa Freeman, a teacher who took part last year, describes the course as highly accessible. "It's for anybody who believes in creativity and wants to change their teaching," she says.

Back in the classroom, some students will write lyrics and compose music, while others will be tasked with designing costumes, creating props and auditioning those who want to take part. The opera is then performed at the end of the year.

If you can't make it to Devon, you can still dive into the world of opera. As an introduction, watch a short video from BBC Class Clips - Music on TES Connect (bit.lyBBCOpera). The video features the character Escamillo, from Bizet's opera Carmen, singing about a bullfight in the Toreador Song (the French libretto is translated into English at the bottom of the screen).

Also on TES Connect, Sarah Harvey's worksheet of opera keywords is another good place to start (bit.lyOperaKeywords). Students can learn about acts, overtures, duets and the role of the conductor, and put together their own synopsis.

In the end, they may not have created the perfect opera, but they might decide that, despite its image, opera should be for everyone.

The deadline for applying to join the Write an Opera 2013 course is 31 May. Find out more at

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