Creating Opera Lovers One Child at a Time

These past 2 weeks I had the pleasure of performing the role of Rosina from Barber of Seville in outreach performances with Opera San Luis Obispo in California. I dreaded the first performance due to the fact that this was my first foray into the crazy world of coloratura and I only had 3 weeks to learn the role. As I woke that morning to prepare for the 10:00 AM performance time and attempted to chase that darn frog out of my throat, I worried about remembering words, remembering cuts in the music, and the fact that, due to unforeseen circumstances and a freak rainstorm whose subsequent flooding caused our maestro to be trapped at his home during the rehearsal period, we had never rehearsed the program in its entirety. I grudgingly drove myself to Mission Elementary School that morning expecting to fumble my way through the first performance; however, as we walked through the school into the outdoor performance area, we were greeted by shouts of “Figaro! FIGARO! FIGARO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” and “Rosina’s here!” “They’re here!!! The singers are HERE!” The excitement and anticipation was completely overwhelming. They were well-prepared by their teachers and they knew the entire plot of the opera and all about the crazy antics of each character. What is even more shocking is that these kids actually CARED! These tiny kids were excited about opera! Can you believe it? Opera. You know, that dated art form which is dying as fast as it’s patrons. And yet here we were with elementary-aged groupies. I felt like the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. Their energy was contagious and we ended up giving an amazing performance.  After the show, the kids asked us all kinds of questions, from “What do you like most about singing?” to “How long have you been an opera singer?” to “What is your favorite opera?” to “How can you sing so fast!!??” Even after the questions had subsided and the children were sent back to their classrooms, several kids ignored the call of their instructors to come and get our autographs, give us hugs, and ask further questions about opera. It was a humbling experience to be sure. These kids reminded me of why I toil away in the practice room for hours on end, sinking countless dollars into my career, and working 3 other part-time jobs to pay for my training. This is why I do this. This is why I sing.

"FIGARO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Each outreach performance reached 100+ students and community members. Each of the children who attended our outreach performances were invited to attend the dress rehearsal with their families and friends free of charge. As I am only in the outreach cast, I was able to sit amongst the children and enjoy the show from the audience this time. I was amazed by the number of families who attended the rehearsal. Several were dressed in their Sunday-best and the entire front row was filled as the kids peered over the pit to watch the orchestra play. The Barber of Seville is known for it’s Marx-brother’s-like comedy. However, you would not assume that the kids would understand or even appreciate the humor when delivered in Italian, even with super-titles. Not only did the kids understand the jokes and gags, but one little 6-year-old girl in front of me was literally rocking in her seat from laughter during the entirety of the performance. There’s an opera lover if I’ve ever seen one. If companies such as Opera San Luis Obispo continue to reach out to the community and schools to dispel the operatic stereotypes, then Opera might have a fighting chance….. as long as we can wait for our new audience to grow up!

Maestro Robert Ashens adressing the kids

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