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Opera Reaches Out
Evan Wildstein, Manager of Education and Adult Learning Programs, OPERA America
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EducationLink1/21/2008

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The field of education and outreach within the world of opera is a rich landscape of companies with ties to their communities, education, teaching artistry and advancement of all kinds. For those who have an interest in creating or improving their programs, read on and learn about what some our members are doing.

Beginning in the Midwest, Lyric Opera of Kansas City's Opera for Captive Audiences program allows inmates at minimum security facilities to sing with their children and Lyric Opera professionals. "Opera for Captive Audiences gives inmates an opportunity to do something special with their children," says Paula Winans, Lyric Opera of Kansas City's director of education. "I was a weekly volunteer in the men's correctional facility for four years in the Stop Violence program, and there were some incredible things that happened with inmates' children singing in our operas and coming to opera camp on scholarship," adds Winans. The Captive Audiences program has had such an impact — Lyric Opera of Kansas City received donations from the inmates at the facility, which Winans states is "pretty much unheard of as donations go!"

Moving southeast, Pensacola Opera's partnership with the Deaf & Hard of Hearing of Northwest Florida attempts to bring together the worlds of the hearing and the hearing impaired. Through the work and creativity of Pensacola Opera, young people (hearing, deaf and hearing impaired) have the opportunity to participate in and create opera. Tim Kennedy, director of education at Pensacola Opera, believes their relationship with this community is exciting and life-changing. "The teenagers discovered avenues to express their frustrations, explored their cultural history and searched for solutions towards communicating between two worlds through understanding of each others' differences," says Kennedy about the partnership's first piece, entitled Two Worlds. This season, they will work towards performing and learning about another piece, Richard Medugno's play, Silent Salzburg.

Now head to the northeast, where youth are being given access to opera through high-definition telecasts. Students from each of New York's five boroughs (Queens, Staten Island, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan) are being exposed to the art form through the Metropolitan Opera's Live in High Definition program. The program originally began broadcasting to movie theaters and expanded to schools in December 2007. In September, Washington National Opera broadcast their performance of La bohème to over 20 educational institutions, including high schools, colleges and universities. This is a very crucial initiative, as it gives many students who would not otherwise have the opportunity to access the arts the chance to do so.

All over the country, in addition to programs that focus on education and the community, many companies try to encourage young adults to participate with the art form. These Young Friends programs encourage enjoyment of the art form, often from a social standpoint. Houston Grand Opera and Utah Symphony & Opera are two examples of companies with bustling young adult programs; for a list of other companies throughout the country with similar initiatives, visit OPERA America's Young Friends of Opera.

Any organization that makes education and outreach a part of their mission is doing a great service within their community. The examples shared with this article are simply a sample of the work already being done by companies around the U.S. Add your valuable education and outreach programs to the map!

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