A Night at the Opera

By Nancy Barile on November 8, 2010
  • 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?

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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.

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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 hereThe 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.  

~ Nancy

Comments

Thank you, Natalie and Margaret. This has truly been a fabulous experience. And wow - AUSTRALIA - how neat that this is being read across the world!

What an amazing experience for your students. I visited Boston in 2006 and found it an amazing city and can't wait till I can visit again.

On our next trip I will be sure to visit the theatre.

I work in a school Library here in Queensland Australia, and wish I could be there to see their faces - congratulations to all who make this possible. Margaret Thompson

You are to be commended for taking the initiate and working with Jenny and the opera society to make this happen. I know your students love you dearly and appreciate this extraordinary gift of music and culture that you are giving them. Teachers like you are one in a million. Well done!

Hey, Nick! My students LOVE getting dressed up for a night on the town!

Thank you, Marybeth! Since I plan on teaching for at least another 15 years, I'm hopeful that these students will keep in touch with me and tell me that they continue to follow their love of the opera!

Good to see kids dressed up and out in the town. It's about time to break the urban-city stereotype.

Kudos to Jenny and you for bringing opportunities like this to your students. I LOVE read/hearing about stories like this where educators think outside the box and go the extra distance for less privileged students. I still remember the first opera I ever saw; I was in 4th grade. The opera was 'Madama Butterfly' and it was the most beautiful thing I have seen and heard. It started a love affair with all things Japanese that has lasted to this day. I am now in my mid-40s...LOL! You never know what seeds are planted and sown. Best wishes to both of you as well as the students. Thank you for such an uplifting story.

Absolutely beautiful Nancy ~ you must be so proud of all of your students for their essays and art work. I am truly impressed and what an honor to you directly! Kudos!

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