An Overture to Opera


For parents who feel they may tear their hair out if they are subjected to one more rendition of the Barney theme, this weekend offers a couple of opportunities to instill appreciation for stronger musical stuff.

When Ariane Czonka Comstock, author of “The Young Person’s Guide to the Opera,” begins her opera-appreciation presentation for kids, she asks: “Do you like dancing? Singing? Fancy clothes? Big pretty paintings?” The kids in attendance, some as young as preschoolers, respond with raised hands and squeals of affirmation.

“With opera,” she tells them, “you get to see all these things all at once--on a stage--where there is a story being told about dragons and witches, and boys and girls and gods and mortals.”

In show-business parlance, this usually “hooks ‘em good,” and Comstock can proceed straight to the matter: giving kids their first exposure to the mysteries and joys of grand opera. She knows it’s a branch of knowledge that’s eluded most adults, but, in her experience, seems to interest kids if it’s presented in the right way. She does it in costume--with singing, dancing and a vivid storytelling technique.


Saturday at the Thousand Oaks Community Gallery, local kids will have a chance to participate in one of Comstock’s presentations, during which she will ask kids to join with her in performing excerpts from the opera “Hansel and Gretel.”

“This opera is easy for kids to relate to for the same reason that the Grimm’s fairy tale it’s based on became a children’s favorite. It’s scary. And there’s a witch,” says Comstock.

She tells them the story of the opera and teaches them a little dance that is performed by the brother and sister characters when the work is staged. She then demonstrates another little dance, accompanied by a recording of “The Witches’ Ride,” music from the opera, and gets the kids to hiss and boo that character. (They’ll also be encouraged to shout “Bravo” when there’s something going on that they like.)

Comstock, a Westlake resident, is an operatic soprano by profession, as well as a critic and author. She “sings along” as she puts it, during the playing of the excerpts, “but I don’t let out all the stops.” Comstock believes the best way to develop a kid’s interest in opera is to get recordings that are “highlight collections” rather than whole operas.



For budding symphony fans, there will be a performance by the Conejo Valley Youth Orchestra and the Conejo Valley Youth Strings in Thousand Oaks on Friday.

These groups are affiliates of the Conejo Valley Symphony Orchestra and draw talented young musicians from all over Ventura County--as players and concert-goers.

The Youth Orchestra appearance, with conductor Carol Alexander and soloist Kevin Chu playing the first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, will begin at 8 p.m. This will be preceded at 7:30 by the performance of the Youth Strings, led by Bill Benson. At 7 p.m., students of local teacher Dawn Neal will perform.



“How to Love Opera--for Children,” a presentation by Ariane Czonka Comstock, author of “The Young Person’s Guide to the Opera,” for kids 5 and up, Saturday, 11 a.m., Thousand Oaks Community Gallery, 2331 Borchard Road, Newbury Park. Free. Seating is limited; reservations recommended. Book-signing will follow. (805) 498-5147.

The Conejo Valley Youth Orchestra, Conejo Valley Youth Strings and private students perform Friday at 7 p.m, at Ascension Lutheran Church, 1600 E. Hillcrest St., Thousand Oaks, students $7, adults $9, info (805) 241-7270.