A CLASSROOM ACTIVITY
For this activity, each student will need photocopies of the printed resources found here.
STEPS The steps to this activity can be adjusted to your teaching situation. Please keep in mind that the intent is to help students understand the dramatic functions of an aria, to prepare them for the music they’ll hear in the Live in HD transmission, and to support them in developing criteria for their own critical judgment. The questions are meant to provoke students’ thinking; there are no right or wrong answers.
Step 1: To set up the problem and purpose of an aria, have students take five minutes or so to write the following scene in dialogue, with stage directions, but using no descriptive language:
A boy and a girl are in the same park.
Their parents have told them not to socialize, but they really like each other.
They can’t tell their friends, because their friends will make fun of them.
They’ve each come to the park trying to figure out what to do about their dilemma.
Step 2: Have two or three pairs of students act out sample scenes in front of the class. Discuss: Were the writers able to convey the two characters’ emotions? What lines in the scenes got those feelings across?
Step 3: From here on, the class will look at the way other creators have dealt with the problem of conveying characters’ inner lives. Have the students read the resource Shakespeare: From the Balcony Scene. What’s going on here? (Roméo is talking to himself. Juliette hears a voice and asks who’s there.)
Note: You may want to have the class read the resources aloud, as a group, so students can help each other manage unfamiliar vocabulary and sentence structure.
Step 4: Have the students read the resource Shakespeare: Before the Balcony Scene. In Shakespeare’s play, this selection comes right before the previous one. Does it help to read the lines that came just before? What do the additions tell us about Roméo? About Juliette? Notice that for much of this section, Roméo and Juliette are each talking to themselves (though Roméo starts to eavesdrop!). How does this change the scene? Does this “inner speech” make a play seem more realistic or less? How else might this information have been conveyed? How do comic-book artists convey inner thoughts and feelings? (With thought balloons.) How do filmmakers do it? (Usually with voiceover.)
Step 5: Distribute the Thinking in Song: From the Barbier/Carré Libretto resource. Allow students a few moments to familiarize themselves with this translation. Discuss how this version aligns with the Shakespeare version in Act II, Scene ii. Then ask students to follow along as you play the sound clip of Roméo’s aria “L’amour, l’amour” from Roméo et Juliette (Track 1). You may want to play it through twice to give students the opportunity to listen more carefully. What feelings does the music convey through rhythm, dynamics and tone? How do the accompanying instruments add to the effect? What does the music tell us about Roméo that words alone can’t convey?
Step 6: Listen to the continuation of the scene (Track 2). How does the music change? How do Roméo and Juliette interact musically? What feelings do Juliette’s singing and the orchestration convey? How does Roméo’s song change once he knows Juliette is listening? How does the music change when Juliette hears someone coming?
Step 7: Ask students what differences they see between Shakespeare’s play and the opera: Neither is in contemporary language, yet they differ. How, and to what effect? Now that they’ve heard a couple of arias, what do students think of the aria as a dramatic device? As a musical form?
FOLLOW-UP: In class, or for homework, students can complete the scenes they wrote at the start of the lesson by inserting arias of their own. Have them choose popular songs, then create arias for their characters by writing new lyrics.