A 22-feet tall statue of a man stands in a far corner of Florida Grand Opera’s 30,000-square-foot warehouse in North Miami.
Forgotten and placed in darkness after serving in the company’s Coronation of Poppea in 1997, today the old statue has some peculiar visitors.
About 30 Westland Hialeah High students tilt their heads back admiring the giant as they joke about placing it in their school.
The visit is part of Opera Lab, a Florida Grand Opera program that visits South Florida high schools throughout the school year to show students how opera can relate to their classes, how they can learn about backstage careers and how to appreciate the centuries-old art form.
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During the visit, Josefina Beyra’s 3D design art class saw dozens of rifles, revolvers, statues, bows and arrows and even a carriage — all props used in the company’s productions.
The students also saw how the production team creates their own props. A team member showed how they avoided placing a real, heavyset furnace on stage — a potential liability — and instead made one just as real out of plastic bins.
Gianna Angulo, a senior, stood in front of the crowd surrounding the speaker, not taking her eyes off him, or the faux furnace.
“I didn’t even know this was possible,” she said, staring at the furnace. “I just thought people shipped it and it comes in. I didn’t know people just created these things from materials I didn’t even know of.”
For the 17-year-old art lover, the school’s collaboration with Florida’s oldest performing arts organization has captivated her so much that she now wants to go into set design.
“This is basically a preview of what my life could be every single day,” she said. “It’s something new every time; I know it’s not gonna be boring.”
For Cerise Sutton, the opera’s director of education, and Kevin Mynatt, director of production, Gianna’s reaction is the beautiful part of their outreach program: to see teenagers falling in love with opera and all of its aspects, and maybe even considering it as a career.
“What we find when we do this sort of intensive work is that it changes [the students’] perception of the art form. They find the relevance in it and they have a better understanding of what it takes to put it on,” said Sutton.
The program began its second year by visiting art classes in Westland Hialeah Senior High in September and will continue there until May, adding Hialeah High on Nov. 3 and Dillard High in Broward on Nov.10.
“The students have been very engaged. I think because it’s different, it’s easy for them,” said Mynatt, who helped the students prepare props for their theater class’ productions.
Back at Beyra’s classroom, two students joked in Spanish as they spray painted a Trop50 orange juice bottle attached to a handcrafted lamp shade. Other students glued a cardboard cross to a wooden platform while a trio worked on making a hat out of plastic container.
“I’m trying to show them that this course is more than just a box of crayons,” said Beyra, who taught sustainability to her students by creating props with recycled materials.
“[The students] use this class as a generator of innovation and original thought,” she said.
As part of the program, the students will attend the dress rehearsal for Madama Butterfly on the day before its opening in Miami on Nov. 15 at the Adrienne Arsht Center.
Beyra said that experiencing a live opera introduces the students, many of them from immigrant families, to a different culture.
“It’s a culture shock,” she said. “It stirs some kind of emotion in them, it shows them the world beyond what they know in the city of Hialeah.”
Opera in Hialeah
The Florida Grand Opera has launched Opera in Hialeah, a festival bringing the company’s concerts and outreach programs to the city.
The program is the result of a collaboration between Florida Grand Opera and Hialeah’s Department of Education and Comunnity Services.
The first Spanish-language concert, ‘¡Opera Viva, Viva Opera!’ will take place at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 1 at Hialeah’s Milander Center for Arts and Entertainment, 4800 Palm Avenue.
The concert is free and will consist of parts from ‘Luisa Fernanda,’ ‘Cecilia Valdés‘ and ‘El Niño Judío.’
The second, ticketed concert will take place on March20.
In addition, the opera company will host surprise “pop-up operas” around the city, like the Hialeah Racetrack, Westland Mall, and the John F. Kennedy Library. These will be held at 1p.m. Feb.5.
And 14 libraries throughout the county will host read-along, sing-along programs beginning at 3:30 p.m. Nov. 15 at the West Dade Regional Libary, 9445 SW 24th St. For a complete schedule, visit www.hialeahfl.gov or call 305-403-3308.