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How Do Words and Music Help Us Understand the Characters?


Length: 1-2 days



Language Arts, Performing Arts

Subtopics: Theater, Music, Literature
Intelligences Being Addressed: Interpersonal, Musical/Rhythmic, Verbal/Linguistic
Dimensions of Learning: Acquisition and integration of knowledge, Extension and refinement of knowledge, Meaningful use of knowledge

The last lesson in this unit pulls together the words and the music. After learning about traditional operatic vocal types, students analyze scenes. How do the words, vocal types, and music set the scene and tell the story?


TV/video player
CD player
Bulletin board

Materials: The Black Dog Opera Library Series
video starring Pavoratti (Jean Pierre Ponelle film version)
Hand Outs:

The students should have their handouts from previous lessons:

Direction Cards
Verdi and Piave: A Typical Partnership
Rigoletto's Story; part 1 and part 2

Student Supplies: Pencil and paper
Construction paper, markers, scissors
Teacher Internet Resources:

Lesson and Extension-Specific Resources: See unit overview

General Internet Resources: See unit overview


National Standards for Arts Education:
Music 5-8, Standards 6, 7, 8, 9
Instructional Objectives:

Students will identify and describe ways in which the words and the music of the opera help to define the characters.


Silent reading
Listening skills
Teacher-led discussion
Critical thinking strategies
Guided activity

Instructional Plan:

1. As a warm up, ask students to think of examples in which words or music help to describe a character in television shows or movies.

2. Introduce the students to the four traditional operatic vocal types (soprano, contralto, tenor and baritone). Explain that each vocal type traditionally sang certain kinds of roles. The soprano was the heroine, the tenor was the hero, the baritone was often either the villain or the noble friend of the tenor.

3. Listen to the Duke's song (CD2, Tr12) in Rigoletto and examine the words of the aria. Do you believe that the Duke is a hero like most tenors? How would you describe the Duke?

4. Examine the character of Rigoletto. Where does he act like a villain? Where does he act like a good father?

5. Read the libretto and listen to the selection (CD2, Tr5). Why does Rigoletto sing such a carefree song? Do you think that he is really happy in that situation? How do the words and the music tell you this?

6. Read the libretto and listen to the selection (CD2, Tr6). What words tell you of Rigoletto's emotions? Does this aria have only one emotion? How does the music help you understand the emotions?

7. Examine the characters in the opera and classify them by vocal type. Do the characters match the usual conventions of vocal type? Is Rigoletto a villain? Is he a noble friend? Is the Duke a hero?

8. Using construction paper, scissors and markers, have the students create two masks for Rigoletto, one depicting his role as the rather mean court jester and one as the loving father. When in the opera would Rigoletto use each mask?


Students demonstrate the understanding that characters may sometimes have a public and a private face.


At this point in the study, students should have demonstrated a clear knowledge of the subject matter of the opera. You may elect to devote some class time to showing them a video of the complete opera. You may also opt to show only selected portions of the opera if you do not have time for the entire video. You may also want to explore a new opera or operetta. Perhaps they could take their notes from the lessons in this series and come up with their own opera.

Teacher References:

Black Dog Opera Series Rigoletto CD


Submission Date: November 1, 2000

© ARTSEDGE, 2000