About the Holiday
Today celebrates a musical art form that began in the 1500s in Italy. An opera is a play that is entirely sung by the actors. Operas can be funny, romantic, or tragic. The actors must have amazing voices that can fill the whole opera house because they do not use microphones. The actors get to sing solos, called arias, that reveal their emotions about particular moments in the story. Because of its grand history in countries such as Italy, Germany, and France, operas are still more popular in Europe than in the U.S. In America we’re more familiar with musicals, like Frozen orAladdin, where some dialogue is spoken and songs tell more about the plot of the story than about the characters’ feelings. If you’d like to listen to a little bit of an opera for children, check out this video of parts of Little Red Riding Hood performed by the BCOpera.
Father’s Chinese Opera
By Rich Lo
Recalling personal experience, author-illustrator Rich Lo writes a unique tale set within the Chinese opera. Revolving around themes pertinent to life, the Chinese opera employs actors as well as acrobats and flag carriers who add action and meaning to the play.
In Father’s Chinese Opera, the son of the band leader and composer for the Hong Kong opera watches the actors flip and somersault across the stage and dreams of joining them. He approaches Gai Chui, the best acrobat in the troupe and asks to be taught the martial arts. Gai Chui agrees and the little boy begins to learn the moves—Praying Mantis, Crouching Tiger, Striking Leopard, and more. The little boy practices hard and believes he is ready to join the other actors, but when he tells Gai Chui he is ready, the master acrobat laughs and tells him it’s not quite that easy.
Dejected, the boy goes home. His father tells him about how hard he worked to become the leader of an opera troupe, and the boy takes the lesson to heart. The next day he goes back to the opera house and instead of watching the actors, he takes note of the flag carriers—the lowest position in the troupe. He asks if he can be a flag carrier, to which his father agrees—but only for the summer.
As a flag carrier, the boy makes new friends, becomes a better acrobat, and impresses Gai Chui, who tells him that with more practice he will be able to achieve his dreams.
Rich Lo’s story is full of truths about hard work and the benefits of developing a deep understanding of all aspects of one’s skills. Children may find a conversation like this seemingly unfair, but Lo reveals that such teaching on the part of a parent or other adult is one of the ultimate demonstrations of love.
Lo’s watercolor illustrations are vibrant and dreamy, perfectly reflecting the beauty and action of the Chinese opera that so captivates the story’s young narrator. His father and the orchestra, dressed in their conservative blue and tan suits and sitting at the corner of the stage, contrast starkly with the bold, riotous mosaic of the actors’ costumes and the swirling moves of the acrobats. It’s easy to see why the boy is attracted to this art. It is back home—where the colors once again become muted and quiet—however, that the boy learns his greatest lesson.
Sharing Father’s Chinese Opera with children is an excellent way to discuss the idea that while a talent may be inborn, practice and patience are also needed to see it come to its full fruition. The book would be a valuable addition to home, classroom, and library collecions.
Ages: 3 – 7
Sky Pony Press, 2014 | ISBN 978-1628736106
Opera Day Activity
Opera Word Search
You can find Father’s Chinese Opera at these booksellers