The Operatic Songbirds’ Nest
Natural science, zoology, biology, visual arts, sculpture, poetry, literary analysis
- Reproducible handouts for this activity
- Construction paper of various colors, origami paper, or computer paper
- Index cards
- Pencils or pens
- Scotch tape
- Optional materials for decorating (glitter, feathers, etc.)
Common Core Standards
This activity directly supports the following ELA-Literacy Common Core Strands:
Explain how a series of chapters, scenes, or stanzas fits together to provide the overall structure of a particular story, drama, or poem.
Create and present a poem, narrative, play, art work, or literary review in response to a particular author or theme studied in class.
When birds weave their nests, they incorporate found materials—bits of string, cloth, or paper—into their architecture with fascinating and beautiful results. Similarly, opera composers weave the words, musical themes, and personalities of their characters into ensembles. This activity will help you explore the process of crafting an ensemble through a project that combines the visual arts and sciences.
STEP 1. WATCH AND LEARN
Invite your students to watch or listen to La Cenerentola’s Act II ensemble, “Questo è un nodo avviluppato” (MOoD Track 37). Older students may enjoy watching it in small groups, while younger students will likely enjoy watching it as a class.
Ask for initial impressions: Was this scene funny? Was it confusing? Can students tell what is going on and how these characters relate to each other? Direct their thinking with the following questions, and then play the scene again.
- How many characters are singing at the same time?
- Are they all singing the same text? Do they seem to be singing different texts?
- Are they talking to each other as they sing? Are they talking to themselves? Both?
(Note that MOoD includes English subtitles. You can either distribute the reproducible text and translation now, or you can wait until the next step.)
STEP 2. SEPARATE THE STRANDS
If you haven’t done so already, distribute the ensemble’s text and translation. Next, distribute pieces of construction paper, origami paper, computer paper, or the reproducible, and have students cut the paper into six long, one-inch-wide strips. (The reproducible at the end of this guide has guide-lines for cutting the paper. For younger students, you may wish to have the paper pre-cut.)
Now have students write each character’s text on an individual strip of paper. (For instance, if you have six colors, you will use six strips of paper.)
- The strands should all be about the same length. If the text is too short, repeat the text multiple times. If the text is too long, tape another strip too the end of the first and keep going.
- The strips may have some or many words in common—excavating this textual relationship is part of the point of this activity.
Finally, invite students to decorate the strips in a way that expresses each character’s personality.
STEP 3. CONSTRUCT THE NEST
Teach students to weave the strips of paper together to form a multi-strand braid. (Instructional videos for six-strand braids are readily available on YouTube, as are instructions for braids of three, four, and five strands.)
When students’ braids are complete, have them tape the ends together to make the circular nest shape, and then tape the nest onto a piece of construction paper to form a sturdy base.
Finally, have students write a brief description of the ensemble scene on their index card. Attach it to the construction paper base.
- Fold simple origami birds of different sizes and colors to represent the characters and place them in the next. (Instructional videos for various origami birds are available on YouTube.) Spend some time researching the birds—are any of them native to your area? Are any of them native to Italy (where La Cenerentola premiered) or France (where Charles Perrault lived)?
- Consider the interplay of the characters as you weave their texts (and their fates) together. Invite students to write a short scene describing what happens next in the story.
- Use this same activity to explore other operatic ensembles. Some good examples include:
- “Fredda ed immobile,” from Il Barbiere di Siviglia
- “Buona sera,” from Il Barbiere di Siviglia
- “Chi mi frena in tal momento,” from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor
- “Soave sia il vento,” from Mozart’s Così fan tutte
- “Bella figlia dell’amore,” from Verdi’s Rigoletto
- “Voi signor, che giusto siete,” from Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro
- “Don Giovanni, a cenar teco,” from Mozart’s Don Giovanni
- “Via, da brava,” from Donizetti’s Don Pasquale