A Night at the Opera
- Grades: 6–8, 9–12
In my very first post, I wrote about Jenny Kelly, the director of the World Classical Performing Arts Society, founder and director of the Baltimore Opera Theatre, and director of Teatro Lirico D'Europa. I first met Jenny when I contacted her after seeing an ad in The Boston Globe for Teatro Lirico D'Europa's performance of La Traviata, which was coming to a theater in Boston.
Although I did not know Jenny, I sent her an email asking her if she could provide a few opera tickets for the students in my high school, 73% of whom receive free or reduced lunch — meaning they live at or below the poverty level. I was shocked when Jenny immediately returned my email stating that she would not only provide me with fifty tickets, she would give them to me for FREE.
Since that time two years ago, Jenny has provided my students, and the students from several other schools, with free tickets to all her operas when they are performed in Boston. As a result, she has made opera lovers out of my urban school students, who have now seen Aida, La Bohème, The Barber of Seville, Pagliacci, and Madama Butterfly, to name a few. How did this happen? How is it that this art form, conceived in the 16th century and performed entirely in Italian, was so able to captivate and excite my 21st century students?
The answer lies is the eternal themes presented in the opera: unrequited love, acceptance, death, war, poverty, mistaken identity, love transcending the social classes, passion, and humor in the face of adversity. My students can identify with the characters, but they can also revel in the beauty and majesty that is the opera. They are fascinated by the magnificence of the live orchestra, the exquisiteness of the costumes, and the beauty and functionality of the sets. And I, their teacher, love to watch their faces when they hear the prima donna open her mouth and sing that first breathtaking note.
Of course, there's also the fun of dressing up — it is opening night of the opera, after all. And the sophisticated feeling of seeing the glittering skyline of Boston as we drive over the Tobin Bridge. And the special feeling we get when we enter the stately Cutler Majestic Theatre, with its beautiful interior and old-world charm.
The first opera of this season was Madama Butterfly. For this opera, Jenny let the students from Revere High School submit their artwork for the front, back, and inside covers of the program. Richard Trimarchi's piece won the front cover honor; Jen Sao got the back cover; and Katherine Roldan won the inside cover. In addition, Jenny published essays written by my students in which they discussed their feelings about attending the opera:
Shannen Donovan wrote:
"Everyone must wonder what an opera is like. After all, opera is everywhere: commercials, cartoons, newspapers, and even in the back of our minds. Somehow everyone knows the tune to "Figaro's Aria." The centuries-old tune is likely to get stuck in our heads just as much as Lady Gaga's "Alejandro." In fact, popular songs like "Alejandro" may not have been created if not for the musical spirits of Italians and Frenchmen so long ago."
An excerpt from Lindsay Chorlian's essay conveys her feelings about the opera:
"The overall experience of the opera was wonderful, and when I got home, I couldn't help but talk about it. I described each scene with a persisting sense of amazement, and I could still do so now. Going to the opera gave me a chance to open the doors of a life much more grand than my own and a chance to step inside of it from the city streets. It gave me a cultural experience that I will keep with me for the rest of my life, and I can only hope that I will have the chance to go again soon."
You can view the entire program here. The students were absolutely thrilled that Jenny used their artwork for the program, and they were delighted to see their essays in the finished copy. Not only did Jenny provide my students with an amazing opportunity in seeing an opera, but she also gave them an audience for their writing and their artwork. For all of this, I will be eternally grateful. Jenny Kelly has enriched the lives of my students and provided them with a unique chance to explore the arts outside of the classroom. Thank you, Jenny!
"Don't Be Afraid of Opera," a Scholastic Kids Press Corps article, further reiterates the joy that kids can find in opera. Opera: What's All the Screaming About? is a great book to introduce students to the genre. It traces the history of opera, discusses the great composers, and gives an in-depth study of Bizet's Carmen.