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Article Published: 29 Jan 2021

Smells Like Teen Spirit

Podcasts, once a relatively sleepy corner of the streaming industry, have never been more popular. The market research company eMarketer estimates that in the U.S., there are 92 million podcast listeners as of 2020, up from 76 million in 2019, and that roughly a third of listeners consume six or more hours of podcasts per week. And while there is seemingly a podcast on every imaginable topic, the launch this summer of Teens Tackle Opera charts new territory: The series explores opera, as an art form and an industry, from the perspective of teenagers.

Teens Tackle Opera is the brainchild of the Opera Teens, an OA initiative in which opera-loving high schoolers from across the country form local Teen Councils to learn about opera together while raising awareness of the art form. “With the podcast, the teens wanted a way to share their love of opera but also find a way to ‘communicate up’ and be heard by the wider field,” says OA’s director of learning and leadership, Sarah Carter, who is an adviser to the Opera Teens. Carter arranged for Opera Teens’ podcast team to meet with several opera professionals who provided guidance on getting the project off the ground. For instance, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’ director of marketing and PR, Anh Le, advised them on how to brand and market a podcast.

A central goal of the series is to introduce opera to fellow teens and, hopefully, inspire a new generation of opera fans. “We’ve all talked about the experience of going to a concert or an opera and looking around and being the youngest one there,” says Addison Littlefield of the Opera Maine Teen Council. “It would be so much better to see more young people involved. I would love to go to the opera and connect with peers.”

The teens also hope the podcast will reach opera administrators, with whom they wish to share their thoughts on some of the issues the industry faces: racial inclusivity, the accessibility of the art form, increasing opera’s relevance to young people. “Directors of opera companies are trying to figure out what younger people are looking for,” says Maurissa Dawson, a member of the LA Opera Teen Council. “Our podcast might help.”

In the first episode, the Opera Teens introduce themselves, and future episodes are scheduled to be released on a quarterly basis. Topics the team has been considering include the overlooked repertoire by female and BIPOC composers and librettists, ways of introducing newcomers to opera, and the impact of technology on how opera is consumed. Though the teens will be monitoring engagement with their podcast, success for them won’t be measured in download stats. “For all of us, we don’t care about whether it goes super viral,” says Julia Noel of the San Francisco Opera Teen Council. “We care more that we can make our voices heard and influence the opera industry. We want to be able to make a change for the better, especially in these times.”

This article was published in the Winter 2021 issue of Opera America Magazine.