Someone recently said, “Opera is a dying art”.
Is that what most people think? How can that be? Opera has lots of art forms all rolled up into one: music, theater (drama or comedy — yes, some operas are funny and don’t have someone dying at the end), fashion, dance and art (the scenery can be breathtaking).
Don’t most people love all those things? Shows like “The Voice” and “Dancing with the Stars?” reveal how much people love music, dance and theatrical performances, not the drama of all the reality shows or watching who wears what on the runway.
Opera has it all. But there is a perception that opera is for the wealthy. That shouldn’t be. Opera is a beautiful art for everyone.
The Young Patronesses of the Opera’s approach is to provide opera education to youth of our community. Each year our educational programs reach 30,000 children here. YPO also creates wonderful “Opera Funtime” booklets that use poetry, song and artwork to enlighten children as to the music and history of an opera, as well as offer learning tools for the classroom.
Our teachers workshop for Miami-Dade music teachers reaches more than 15,000 students. These teachers from public, private and parochial schools learn how to broaden a child’s horizon by exposing them to opera in the classrooms. One wonderful teacher in Miami shows her students portions of operas on YouTube to her students, as well as reviews the story lines with YPO’s “Opera Funtime” booklets so they are familiar with the opera before they see it. She even plays online games with them asking questions about the opera’s plot. Some may find opera boring. After all, it’s often sung in a foreign language, and audience members must read subtitles. But not these students; they loved it. If opera-goers ares prepared, know the narrative and is familiar with the music beforehand, they can embrace it and become immersed in the story.
For more than 40 years, the Young Patronesses of the Opera has performed operas for children in elementary schools throughout South Florida. Our In-School Opera productions include opera singers with sets, costumes and live music suited for elementary students. Many of the schools are Title 1 schools, meaning they have a high percentage of students from low-income families. Many of the children might have never had a chance to experience opera. The 30-minute performance of a children’s story set to music is not just a nice performance for the kids, they also are exposed to the possibilities of what’s outside their world and inspires them. Thes performances reach 15,000 elementary students each year. And some of the opera singers on main stages today who are from South Florida have said that their first exposure to opera was YPO’s In-School Opera program.
This is why it is important to keep opera alive. According to volunteer members, we offer opera education to children because, now more than ever, music programs are needed in today’s world. Many school systems have eliminated or reduced arts programs. By fostering an appreciation of and exposure to future generations, opera can survive. Just because we are in a digital age doesn’t mean opera has to be a dying art. Opera encompasses our senses and can transport us to distant worlds. And using the digital age can help.
YPO, www.YPO-Miami.org, a nonprofit organization, provides its programs to students and teachers for free, relying on community members’ support and grants to fulfill its mission.
Learning about opera at an early age shows kids the beauty of what music can do for our souls. Music is a universal language that brings all types of people together. It gives us all a way to connect, to think, to feel and to unite. It’s a chance to for youngsters to experience the “Pied Piper,” “Hansel and Gretel” or “Cinderella. They can leave inspired, and that’s a good thing.
Rene Beal is president of the Young Patronesses of the Opera. Jullie Todaro is executive producer of YPO’s In-School Opera program.