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Opera for the Young

Opera Idaho

During the 2021-2022 season, Opera Idaho’s Emerging Artist professional company presented the Opera for the Young’s production of Rusalka: A Mermaid’s Tale for students in elementary and middle schools throughout Idaho. This opera is an abridged, English version of Antonín Dvořák’s opera Rusalka, originally written in Czech.

Victoria Esposito, Sable Strout, Jack Canfield and Patrick Starke made up the talented cast. This production was chosen because the full opera will be performed in the 2022-23 mainstage season. The goal of Opera Idaho’s school tours is to engage children in an artform many have never seen, and to debunk the myth that opera is “out of reach” or not relatable to all generations. 32 schools were visited in-person, reaching 8,220 students. 30 schools requested a YouTube link to view the production online, reaching 10,435 students.

The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:

How do the other arts, other disciplines, contexts, and daily life inform creating, performing, and responding to music?

The performing arts offer so many different ways to tell a story. Whether it’s singing, speaking or dancing, we humans have the capability to connect and respond through the engaging and lyrical content we take in during a live performance. The core standards evaluated were as follows:
– Responding: MU:Re9.1.2 – Apply personal and
expressive preferences in the evaluation of music for specific purposes.
– Connect: MU: Cn11.0.4a- Demonstrated
understanding of relationships between music and the other arts, other disciplines, varied contexts, and daily life.
– Present: MU: Pr6.1.4b- Demonstrate performance decorum and audience etiquette appropriate for the context venue, and genre.

At the conclusion of the project, students responded to questions related to the identified Standards:

Response (MU:Re9.1.2) and Connect:(MU:Cn11.0.4a): The principal of Silver Sage Elementary School reported that a Kindergarten student turned to her and said “This is the little mermaid!” The principal went on to explain that the Kindergarten class had not planned on attending that day, so they had not discussed the performance beforehand. It was exciting and rewarding to know that a young child was able to make the connection that Rusalka is the original story that Disney’s The Little Mermaid was based upon.

Present (MU:Pr6.1.4b): A teacher from Iowa Elementary in Nampa, Idaho explained a benefit of Opera Idaho’s educational tour by saying, “I cannot afford to take the whole school to ‘proper’ musical performances. My students generally do not get any opportunity to watch live, professional performances. When a group comes to my school, I can offer it to everyone (especially to 3rd grade, since opera is a part of their curriculum) in a safe, familiar environment. Once they experience it here, then I feel more comfortable taking them to a theater.”

Impact

One of the most compelling outcomes of this project was that most (if not all) students participating had not been in a group assembly for nearly two years! COVID distanced and separated the student body of every school in ways children had never experienced prior to a global pandemic. Specifically the earliest grades (Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd) were affected, because to those students, school had never had assemblies as part of their day.

Reflection

In reflection, schools should all receive preparatory materials at least two weeks in advance. Obviously if a school is a late or last-minute booking this cannot be avoided. Some schools reported that they did not receive any materials at all, whereas some didn’t have enough time with what they received. This was mainly a staffing issue for Opera Idaho during the 2021-22 season, and the staff is confident that this will improve moving forward.

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