"Well, Honey, it's a play that's set to music."
"Who would think of that?"
I pondered this. "I guess people in Europe thought of it. Maybe someone composed the music, someone else added words to some songs, and then another person had the bright idea to base a story on a bunch of the songs together."
"What are they about?" he queried.
Now, I was on some unfamiliar ground here. I like classical music, can recognize a few pieces by ear, and have actually attended two operas in my life: one in German (Threepenny Opera) and the other in Italian (The Barber of Seville), both featuring gauche subtitles that ran over the performers' heads near the ceiling. They were pretty enjoyable—not something of which I'd want to make a steady diet, but pleasant and fun.
"Well," I answered with some hesitation, "they're sometimes about pretty dramatic things, like love and death and people stealing things from each other. But sometimes they're just about life, like on that one Arthur episode we saw where Muffy went to the opera. Remember?"
He thought for a moment. "Yeah, I remember, Binky made her go to the opera in her dream." This led to a discussion of that particular show, and further discussion about a segment after the show—a quick video that featured a real opera singer visiting a school and helping the young students compose an opera about a playground game where one kid wasn't following the rules.
Taking it a step further, I performed an impromptu solo piece, singing as if I were Daddy who just minutes ago had misplaced his keys. (I sang this to that tune from one of the most famous operas ever—I wish I could remember which! It was the same opera that was featured in that classic Bugs Bunny opera cartoon):
I cannot find them
I cannot find them
I cannot find them,
My elusive keys—
Anyway, the kid was amused. We composed another opera later while he took his bath, and this time the parts were played by bath toys like Pink Seal (soprano) and Orca (bass, of course). I voiced most of the silliness, but he did some too, and it cracked him up.
This morning, running on cement, the kid bit the dust and scraped his ankle. The first layer of skin was peeled away in a small spot, and by the time we'd made it into the bathroom for some Neosporin, the little bare circle of exposed under-skin was bloody. He was freaked out (blood always causes this response) and I tried to think of a quick way to avoid an all-out breakdown.
I suggested a spontaneous opera about this most recently acquired, oozing scrape. Better yet, we'd take it into the future when the scrape was already healed nicely. The scab would have a deep voice, but his voice would grow weaker as he prepared to fall off. The new skin would be much higher-pitched, soft at first and then triumphant as she emerged into the brightness of day. I launched into Act I to remove his mind from the current predicament:
Scab: I'm getting weaker... I feel my strength faaaaaaaaiiiiillllling... Oh nooooo! I can't hold on!!!
New Skin: What's this soft breeze? And this bright light? It feels so strange, and yet so right...
(You have to sing these lines for it to work, people. Yes, out loud. Now do it.)
The funny thing is that he stopped crying and started giggling instead. Perhaps that's the best thing about opera: yes, it can be quite dramatic and heart-wrenching and all that... but when you take it off the stage and start singing falsetto arias about the latest crisis in your life, it's nearly impossible not to laugh about it. The operatic interpretation of the mundane elevates that mundane to sublimely silly.
Try it. I'm serious. It's curiously liberating, and it forces a lighter perspective on the vast majority of subjects.