Time Allotment: one class period
1. Many students may not have a clear understanding of what opera is. Facilitate a short class brainstorming session about what they believe they know about opera by writing the word "Opera" on the board and encouraging the class to contribute their ideas about the art form and specific information about what constitutes an opera.
2. Once the brainstorming session has been completed, discuss the definition of opera with the students and review some of the common attributes that most operas share. Important points to note could include:
3. So that the students can gain a greater appreciation for and understanding of opera and the skills required for this type of performance, have them review these resources -- GREAT PERFORMANCES' Opera Basics and the San Diego Opera's Operapaedia: Voice Types in Opera.
- Opera is a form of theater, not just singing, and most of the drama is conveyed through music and singing rather than dialogue.
- Opera relies heavily on costumes, makeup, and scenery as part of the performance.
- Opera performances are usually accompanied by a live orchestra rather than pre-recorded music.
- Many operas are not sung in English but in the language in which they were written, often requiring the audience to follow the story through subtitles.
Direct the students to work in pairs or small groups to read about and listen to examples of each of the various types of operatic voices. As they do this, have them complete the Operatic Voices worksheet included in the lesson plan.
4. When the students have completed the worksheet, discuss the various ranges of the operatic voice. If a piano or keyboard is available, demonstrate these voice ranges by playing the typical low and high note for each range. Discuss the chart and why the different operatic voices tend to play characters of a certain type in the opera.
5. Conclude the discussion of opera basics by examining how the voice of an opera singer is different from that of other performers or the types of singing that students are accustomed to hearing on the radio and seeing on television.
Time Allotment: two to three class periods
1. Beverly Sills provides an excellent role model of how perseverance, passion for one's craft, and belief in the American dream can lead to success. In addition, she is a superb example of a person who has a very positive attitude and is a risk-taker at the same time. She demonstrated these qualities and characteristics throughout her career and discusses these life skills in the program. To get the students to think about these qualities before they view the documentary, facilitate a short class discussion using questions such as the ones listed below. Encourage them to provide specific examples to illustrate each of these qualities.
2. Introduce BEVERLY SILLS: MADE IN AMERICA by explaining to the students that they will be viewing a program about a woman who became famous because of her talent as an opera singer and because she embodies the life skills just discussed. Distribute the Viewing Guide and review its directions and questions prior to viewing the program. Have the students complete the guide as they watch. Stop the program as needed to allow them to record specific information about Sills and her career.
- What does it mean to persevere?
- What does it mean to be passionate about something?
- What do we mean when we refer to "the American dream"?
- What does it mean to have a positive attitude?
- What is a risk-taker?
- In what ways can the qualities of perseverance, passion, positive attitude, and risk taking help a person become successful in life?
3. After the students have watched the entire program and completed the Viewing Guide, discuss each question on it. Encourage them to provide specific examples from the program when supporting their ideas and answers.
Time Allotment: two class periods
1. Divide the students into pairs or small groups and have them create a timeline of Beverly Sills' career. Each pair or group should be assigned a particular decade (or other time frame) -- 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s -- of her career to research. Internet and other library resources should be used to locate information about Beverly Sills and the operas she performed. Each group should prepare a poster-sized color display that includes the following information:
(Note to Teachers: Make sure the pairs or groups don't select the same opera to present.)
- name of the opera
- role Beverly Sills played
- date of the performance (year)
- one-page summary of the opera's plot
- a list of key songs performed by Sills and why they were important to the production
- photos, drawings, or pictures that represent significant parts of the story told by Sills character(s) or ways that this role affected her career
2. When all the pairs or groups have created their displays, each should present what they have learned to the rest of the class. The oral presentations should be made in chronological order. A different member of the group should be picked to talk about each of the items listed in Step 1 and explain the importance of the photos, drawings, and pictures selected for the presentation. Display each poster chronologically around the classroom or in a common area for others to see.
3. As a final activity, have the students participate in a class discussion or write a one-page response that addresses the questions presented below.
- In what ways did learning about the operatic voice and viewing BEVERLY SILLS: MADE IN AMERICA increase your appreciation for the art form?
- In what ways do you think Beverly Sills could be considered a role model for young people today?
1. Select two operas -- one modern/contemporary and one traditional -- for the class to view. As you watch, discuss how the costumes, scenery, and acting work together with the musical performances to tell the story. Identify the different voices included in the opera and discuss whether these are the typical roles for each voice. Discuss how the singers develop their character through their vocal performances as well as acting and dancing. Have the students document the opera and their understanding of it by using a graphic organizer such as a story map.
2. Compare and contrast modern and traditional operas. Discuss the similarities and differences between the two in terms of the type of music, costumes, scenery, and acting involved. Have the students indicate which type of opera they prefer and explain why.
3. Challenge the class to work together to create their own opera based on a familiar short story or a fairy tale. They should write the music and songs for the opera and design costumes and scenery. After practicing, have the class perform their opera for another group of students or parents.