The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:
How do other arts, contexts, and daily life inform creating, performing, and responding to music?
Opera Idaho’s project allowed students a first-hand opportunity to learn music, rehearse and perform receiving guidance and feedback from the schools’ teachers, their peers and our professional artists. One of our goals was to increase awareness of the all-encompassing art form that is opera. In many cases, this was the first time students had seen an opera. Teaching materials and opening remarks prepped students for the performance informing them on what opera is and providing information on the production and the composer. Prior to each performance, Opera Idaho’s artists taught students the various ways that audience members can respond including the differences between “Bravo”, “Bravi” and “Brava” and encouraged students to laugh and applaud where appropriate. We wanted students to understand that a story is told through numerous avenues in opera including music, acting, costumes and staging. Because select students had the opportunity to participate in the chorus, they had to practice the music in order to learn their parts and improve and also received staging cues from the artists on where they needed to be and how to respond to the storyline to make others believe that they are part of the action. The story included universal human themes like love, trust, and sacrifice. Students successfully related to the characters and rooted for the heroes while ultimately realizing that the most important thing is to be true to one’s self.
At the conclusion of the project, students responded to questions related to the identified Standards:
At the end of the project, students were asked to reflect on the performance through evaluation handouts. Questions included:
- Who was your favorite character in the opera and why?
- Numerous students wrote that they chose Miss Addy because of her beautiful high voice and that she was sweet and kind. Many students also liked Jimmy Reno because they thought his character was funny and gullible.
- What was your favorite part in the opera?
- Answers ranged from:
- When Addy kissed Jimmy and she canceled the wedding to Bill.
- When Dr. Dulcamara sold the love elixir (which was just root beer).
- When Jimmy asked the kindergarten students for money to help him buy the elixir.
- If you could work for the opera, what job would you like to do? Why?
- While many students answered with singer, there were a large number of students who said they would like to be involved in other areas. Answers included: costume designers, directors, writers, instrument players and scenery builders. Many students listed instruments that they play including piano and the drums, some students noted that they enjoy writing and being creative and would have interest in writing an opera (one said they want to write a Minecraft opera!). A 5th grade student from Mary McPherson Elementary noted that they thought it would be fun to design costumes to fit the characters’ personalities.
These questions helped students reflect on their experience and think deeper into what goes into creating an opera production.
We received letters from teachers showing the impact the performances had on their students.
“Our student population has a very high rate of poverty. At last measure, more than 90% qualified for free or reduced lunch. Opera and performing arts in general are not on the radar for most of our families. I don’t know of a single student who has been exposed to opera outside of the performances in schools. This is such important exposure for our kids to an entirely different part of the world. Maybe one or more of them will choose to become involved in opera. Certainly it peaked interest of the power of the human voice. Many asked questions such as “how do you get your voice so loud without a microphone?” – Paul Webster, Principal Sacajawea Elementary
“This letter is to express the gratitude from our student body for the performance of Elixir of Love. The students selected to help sing in your chorus worked very diligently in learning their parts and the songs. A couple of students were lacking in confidence and this opportunity helped them immensely. The students watching the opera were excited to see some of their peers performing. Most students never have experienced opera and this gave them the opportunity of learning about a different genre of music. Not only did they learn about this style of music, but they were able to be a part of it. Several students expressed how they enjoyed the opera.”- Teri Wallis, Birch Elementary School
Overall, the project was a great success reaching the largest number of students to date in a variety of areas throughout the State of Idaho.
The project was very interactive which we believe helped students be more invested in the opera and take a greater interest in the performances. Select students had the ability to learn music and perform in front of their peers and some of the teachers even taught the song “Dandy Potion” to every student so that the audience could sing along. We find that students respond best when they are invested in the performance in some way so we plan to continue this for future projects and will be taking a “choose-your-own-adventure” opera to schools beginning in October 2018.
Logistically, we only ran into one issue during the project. One of our artists, who portrayed the role of Sergeant Bill Corey, became ill during the tour. The role was one which did not have an understudy, so we had to postpone four performances. In the end, we were able to reschedule two of the schools for a later date and brought the performance to two other schools, which we didn’t originally plan to visit, making up for the missed performances. We will be able to more easily adapt and reschedule if incidents happen this coming year as we will have the Young Artists in Boise for an entire season rather than just two months. Having the Young Artists for an entire season also allows us to expand our number of performances reaching even more students in the coming year.