English and Literacy
Task: Should everyone earn their own living?
In the opera Don Pasquale, Ernesto is a young man who doesn’t earn any money, and this makes him dependent on his Uncle. These days in Britain, it’s rare to find someone who doesn’t need to earn money: most people can’t rely on their parents of families for ever and need to find a way to earn money.
Use this element of the plot to spark a class discussion that everyone can get involved with.
- Split the class into groups of 4-6 pupils, and split each group into pairs or threes of As and Bs.
- Tell the As that they must agree with the statement:
“Earning money makes you a better person.”
Tell the Bs that they must agree with the statement:
“Freedom from having to earn money is a good thing.”
- In their pairs, pupils must work together to build arguments to support the point of view they have been allocated (whether or not they agree with it!).
- When As and Bs have each prepared a range of points, they should re-unite as a larger group to share and develop ideas.
- Finally, hold a class debate around the notion “Everyone should have the freedom from earning their own living”. Towards the latter stage of the debate allow students to bring in their own point of view.
For Key Stage 2, begin with some photographs of people who do different types of job, such as: nurse, refuse collector, judge, vicar, The Queen, shop assistant, astronaut etc. Use this to open discussion about what sort of jobs are most highly valued and / or most highly paid in our society, which should help pupils to think about Ernesto’s position as someone who depends on his uncle.
For Key Stage 3, set a follow-up homework activity: pupils should use the ideas from the class discussion to help them write a letter to Ernesto explaining why he should he find a way to be less dependent on his uncle.
For Key Stage 4, challenge pupils to write an article discussing a range of opinions on the topic “Should everyone should have to earn their own money?”
Task 1: Evaluating impact on audience
- As befits a comic opera of this type, Don Pasquale ends with a wedding. Consider some of the other ways that great works of entertainment from different genre may end. A list has been started for you below, but see if you can add some famous endings that you know about from the worlds of film, literature, theatre and opera.
- The deaths of most of the protagonists and the crowning of a new king (Shakespeare’s Hamlet)
- The death of the heroine (Verdi’s La traviata)
- The heroine and all her friends get to go home after their adventures (L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz)
- The hero lives happily ever after with his saviour (Dicken’s Oliver Twist)
- Discuss these endings and evaluate their likely effect on the audience. The following questions can be used to guide the discussion:
- What sort of endings do you prefer, and why?
- What feelings do different types of endings evoke?
- What do you think audiences hope for from an ending?
- What do playwrights, authors and composers want to achieve by different sorts of endings?
- Pick another play, opera or book that you know well and write about its ending, assessing whether you think it is perfect as it is or if an alternative ending would have been better? Write about this or present it orally to the rest of the class.
For Key Stage 2, provide a list of the main events of Don Pasquale and ask pupils to sequence these. This can be done before attending the performance as a prediction exercise, or as a follow-up activity to consolidate pupils’ recall of the opera. Then ask pupils to apply their knowledge by summarising the opera in ten bullet points.
For Key Stage 3, ask pupils to select a book or story ending that has had an impact on them, and to create a stage adaptation of it. They will need to consider:
- which characters will be on stage for the finale
- the last words of the performance
- the main emotions they want to send the audience away with
For Key Stage 4, extend pupils’ independent evaluation skills. Asking them to choose three famous story openings (across a range of genre including theatre, film, books and opera), write a summary of each and explain its effectiveness as an opening.
Task 2: Researching the setting
Ask pupils to research the setting of the opera: 19th century Rome. Remind them to read a range of sources, including websites and reference books. They could also use artworks from or depicting the era.
This can be done individually, or by allocating different topics to different groups. For example: they could focus on:
- what life was like for the rich and the poor at the time
- what major changes took place during the period
- the names of some artists of the era, and their works
- the characters of the commedia dell’ Arte
For Key Stage 2, set a creative task requiring pupils to present their new knowledge in any form of their choosing. For example, they could design a quiz for fellow pupils, produce a leaflet, write a story or make a model of a museum about the period.
For Key Stage 3, ask pupils to apply their knowledge to write a fact-filled article to be featured on a website about the opera Don Pasquale, to introduce audiences to its setting.
For Key Stage 4, extend pupils’ research skills and creativity by asking them to find out about a different country of their choice, and write in role as a visitor to each, using their travel writing to show facts they have learned, as well as comparing the traveller’s attitudes to them.
Task 1: What sort of Ernesto?
At the beginning of Act II, Ernesto is feeling sorry for himself. He decides to leave Italy and travel abroad.
Imagine Ernesto writes a letter to a friend in another country, explaining what’s happened to his expected inheritance and his marriage plans. Use language which:
- emphasises his sorrows or shows his inner strengths
- appeals for sympathy or disguises his real feelings
- shows Ernesto up as a self-pitying or suggests he is practical and brisk
For Key Stage 2, build pupils’ vocabulary and understanding of the writing task by practising writing and rewriting one or two sentences in ways which suggests different emotions or reactions. For example:
- I have decided to leave Italy.
- Woe is me! Italy is nothing to me now.
- Italy is still beautiful but I must move on.
For Key Stage 3, develop pupils’ self-reflection skills by asking them to assess the emotional effect of each other’s writing. They should identify language features which:
- help to create emotion
- help to disguise emotion
- help to make Ernesto seem likeable, or not
For Key Stage 4, extend pupils’ response to the character and challenge their language skills. Ask them to write the reply that Ernesto’s friend would send him, adapting their language to show if they have decided to be sympathetic and kind, brisk and firm, or a bit of a mixture.
Task 2: What if..?
- In groups after attending the performance, ask students to write as many “What if….?” questions as they can. For example:
- What if Don Pasquale didn’t respond quite so well at the end of play?
- What if he became angry at being tricked?
- What if he resented Norina for her earlier treatment of him (as Sofronia) and couldn’t forgive her?
- What if he wouldn’t allow Ernesto to marry?
- After considering these possibilities, pupils should work collaboratively to write the script of an alternative final scene between Don Pasquale, Ernesto, Norina and Dr Malatesta.
For Key Stage 2, ask pupils to act out their new scenes after writing. The rest of the class should observe and comment on the effect of the scene and how performances could be improved.
For Key Stage 3, challenge pupils’ creativity. Ask them to imagine time has passed and events of their choice have affected Don Pasquale, Ernesto, Norina and Dr Malatesta. They should choose one of the characters and write a diary entry in role showing what has happened and how things have changed.
For Key Stage 4, ask pupils to develop their performance awareness and instructional writing by annotating their own alternative final scenes with director’s notes showing how the scene should be performed, and why.