Operattivamente. The University of Macerata (Italy) for an inclusive project for children between 5 and 11 years of age
For lovers, Opera is an an inimitable show, an appointment that can’t be missed. Opera allows to reflect on the events of life, it excites and upsets with its narrative force. We usually imagine the audience of the Opera in a stereotypical way: an adult audience, cultured and well-off, but the Opera in fact was born to be popular. Thanks to the union of different codes that it contains, the Opera is able to speak to everyone: young people, children, elderly people, men and women, as well as people from different cultures. Everyone is able to understand in depth the existential messages that Opera’s stories present. For these reasons every year, in theatres and arenas around the world, the stories of Opera speak, tell and show the events of life on a stage.
From 2015, the University of Macerata carries on a collaboration with the aim of expanding and involving the public attending the Opera season of the Sferisterio, the second most important Arena in Italy. This project is entitled: Are-nati: Ampliamento dei pubblici dell’Arena dello Sferisterio and has the aim to sensitize and bring the new generations closer to Opera, helping the youngest to understand the stories that make up the plot. This total art form, which combines music with singing, theatre with plastic arts and dance to choreography, can in fact be aimed at an audience of children thanks to the strength of the narration of the stories represented.
Project theories: narrative thinking and multiple intelligences
The project is based on the theory of narrative thought, identified and theorized by Jerome Bruner, one of the most famous Psychologist of education in the world. Stories and narrative thinking are defined by Bruner as “a form of communication and representation of widespread and familiar knowledge, used in every culture for play and educational purposes”. Bruner also supports the idea that narration is a fundamental tool in the process of constructing reality, which helps human beings to create a version of the world in which they can imagine, on the psychological level, a place for themselves. Stories therefore, even those represented by Opera, can be considered a tool to support learning because they are at the base of the process that underlies the co-construction of meanings.The stories hidden within the melodies of Opera are useful because children can find strong feelings and behavioral dynamics difficult to explain in a non-located way, like the jealousy of Othello for the loved Desdemona, the envy of Jago for his friend, Norma’s despair in the face of treachery, but also Calaf’s courage to face death by love and the desire for freedom of the heavenly Aida enslaved by the Egyptian people, and so on. Narrative is a way of thinking and a vehicle to give and create meaning. Narrative supports language’s development, increases creativity, regulates emotions and allows even to the youngest to understand very complex situations. Narration is the basic among the cognitive processes, a universal activity, inherent to human relations. For these reasons narration is the most democratic of mental activities in the construction of knowledge.Together with the storytelling of the stories, the project offers to children a series of activities, wide spaces of interaction that prefers different languages in relation to the other driving theory of this project that refers to the multiple intelligences of Howard Gardner (1983). This is a choice that intends to be inclusive of the many languages available and offer a wide range of experiential knowledge of the history of the Opera. Children can discover the settings, the historical events, the moods of the characters through listening, drawing, dramatization, the creation of puppets and through the spontaneous conversations. A playful educational experience that involves all the intelligences facilitating the exchange of relationships and skills with peers.
Hands on activities and multiple intelligences
The activities that are offered after the narration of Opera’s stories are structured in environments designed for the different inclinations of young people in order to offer an inclusive experience. Examples of the different activities are provided below:
- Spatial Intelligence: children are provided with materials to draw the scenes of the story that struck them mostly, they can recreate scenography and landscapes. Puppets and characters can be realized, as well as puzzles made from drawings of other children, mazes, tangrams and origami. For the youngest participants there is a “soft side” in which they can seat on cushions and play with soft constructions or even the portrait of the favourite characters.
- Linguistic Intelligence: games through which children can explore the plot of the listened Opera through a storyboard, reorganizing the scenes of the story according to temporal sequences. They are also proposed riddles and crosswords.
- Body-kinaesthetic intelligence: children become actors apprentices, they dress with stage clothes, they wear wigs and stage tricks, they play together parts and roles of the different characters.
- Musical intelligence: listening to the main arias is offered, and children can try to play musical instruments built by themselves with recycled materials.
- Logical-mathematical intelligence: we propose the decomposition of the story in flow diagrams, logical association games like “memory” in which the cards represent the faces of the protagonists and can be combined with objects that most characterize them.
- Intra and interpersonal intelligence: children are invited to think about the behaviour of the different Opera’s characters, identifying their feelings and moods, discussing the concept of jealousy, love, fear, cheating, courage with their words and sensations. They investigate motivations that push to the represented actions and hypothesize different solutions, as a relational problem solving strategy.
These activities make it possible to involve the interests of children in different ways, to attract them to the world of Opera in a playful and inclusive way, making sure that all the participants are involved according to their specific motivations, interests, tastes, attitudes and personal skills.
We published 11 small books illustrating some Operas. Their realization took place in two phases, according to the criteria of collaboration between the subjects involved. The first phase saw the students of the degree courses in Educational Psychology and Developmental Psychology at the University of Macerata involved in reading the original libretto of the Opera and the rewriting of text according to a linguistic canon that facilitates the understanding of the plot also to young readers.
Subsequently, the university students read and interpret the Opera’s stories inside infant and primary school classes of the province of Macerata that joined the project. This activity has brought a portion of students closer to this cultural construct complex that is the Opera, and gave them the opportunity to put into practice the theoretical part of the course’s lessons that they attended.
The children participated with energy and interest realizing drawings that testify their accurate understanding of the plot. The drawings made by children were then collected and selected to be used as illustrative material of the stories.The series of books dedicated to children and opera, published by the Eum publishing house of Macerata University, represents the tangible product of this project. The texts published, if compared to other texts on the market, have two peculiarity: the first is the illustrations, which are entirely made by children and the second is the consistency of the text to the official plot of the Opera that has not been absolutely and deliberately modified, even in the most violent or difficult narrative passages, according to precise scientific theories about the value of narration as a preparation to real life.
The main participants in this research are primarily children between 5 and 11 years of age. The sensitization activities are carried out both within the school classes, thanks to the collaboration and availability of teachers, and in places of culture such as libraries and bookshops, but often also outdoors, in the squares and cloisters of the buildings, with the result to also involve families, carers and simple passers-by. It is therefore a widespread and penetrating work on several levels. The numbers of boys and girls involved in three years of activity are truly impressive, over 1500 without considering university students, teachers, parents and relatives.
Sara D’Angelo, Paola Nicolini, Carlo Scheggia
Books published by EUM – Macerata University editions
Aida | Elisir d’amore | Il flauto magico | Il trovatore | La traviata | Madama Butterfly | Nabucco | Norma | Otello | Rigoletto (also in English) | Turandot
Carmen | Don Giovanni | Il barbiere di Siviglia | Macbeth
Operattivamente * is a doctoral project of the University of Macerata, in collaboration with the courses of Developmental Psychology and Educational Psychology held by Prof. Nicolini, with the contribution of the journalist Carlo Scheggia and the PhD student Sara D’Angelo. It makes use of the support of EUM, a university publishing house, which publishes books written by university students and students and illustrated by girls and children, thanks to the collaboration with schools.
If you are an Opera or Arts Educators and you are interested in multiple intelligences and inclusive artistic projects, participate in the #GCTO Training Week!