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Education Programs: The Big Picture
Evan Wildstein, Manager of Education and Adult Learning Programs, OPERA America
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EducationLink11/17/2008

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Opera companies throughout North America produce rewarding educational opportunities for local schools and their communities. The same companies often introduce these audiences to opera — if not the arts as a whole — for the first time. With so many varied programs, it sometimes helps to take a step back and see the big picture of opera's potential in education and community programming.

Apart from the concept that opera is an inherently collaborative art from, its values make it a nearly-perfect tool to engage young audiences. As described by Richard E. Bavaria, an education veteran with nearly four decades of experience:
  1. Opera is complex. It requires complicated and deep thinking. It demands a response. In our "bullet point" age, some textured complexity is welcome. Kids will immediately see the visual arts, dance, vocal and instrumental music, and literature all come together in opera.
  2. Opera allows the kids to make connections across the disciplines. The arts, history and literature all combine to create something entirely new yet familiar.
  3. Opera requires audiences to be thoughtful and critical.
  4. Opera (and other theatrical experiences) requires a certain amount of self-discipline, preparation and community protocol.
  5. Opera involves universal themes that all of us, of all ages and diverse backgrounds, can recognize, relate to and respond to.
Bavaria's thoughts refer to an article that discusses student experiences at a Baltimore Opera Company student dress rehearsal. Their program is an opportunity to reach a diverse student base through the art form. Artistic Administrator James Harp says, "We recognize that a live performance in the theater is the culmination of the operatic experience. We are pleased to offer students an opportunity to see a fully-staged and costumed opera, and from the vociferous ovations we receive we know that the excitement and value of opera is reaching many people."

Dress rehearsals are an immediate and easily implemented way to engage audiences, and they are offered by well over three-quarters of the opera companies in North America. Other types of programming offered by companies include interactive Web sites, student/teacher workshops, opera camps, lectures, touring productions and more. Many of these are offered year-round and do not necessarily align with the scholastic calendar. For information about the range of educational opportunities offered by opera companies in your area, visit OPERA America's Membership Directory, and select your location. You can then peruse the Web sites of local organizations, and learn about their education and community programs and how they fit into the big picture.

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