Opera hits the roads for kidsWritten by Julie Ryan | | firstname.lastname@example.org
They get asked the questions, “Where did you get your pirate shirts?” and “Were you really born on Feb. 29?” – and they love it.
Abby Powell, Tyler Thompson and Cory Clines are in the midst of 62 performances of an abridged version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera, “Pirates of Penzance.” Between March 30 and May 29, their crammed schedule will take them to kindergarten through sixth grade students all over Toledo, and even up to Michigan. Hired by the Toledo Opera as part of the Opera on Wheels program, these artists all say they enjoy the opportunity to teach youth about opera.
“I hate the idea that art and opera are for the elite,” Powell, a soprano, said. “Because of the audience, this is one of the best shows of my life.”
Loviah Aldinger, director of marketing and education for the Toledo Opera, said the program began in 1985 and each year she looks for a solid plot line and structure to keep the older students involved. Following the performance is a Q & A session.
“It’s a wonderful way for children to see an art form they are not familiar with and to hear the voice used as an instrument – with no microphone,” Aldinger said.
Donna Wipfli, the music teacher at Ottawa Hills Elementary School, hosted Opera on Wheels on April 17.
“I think there is nothing like real, live people who make their living by performing for students,” Wipfli said. “Students gain so much from musicians when they can see them, touch their costumes, interact with them.”
Clines, a bass-baritone, was asked to direct the opera one and a half weeks before the tour started. He went into a studio Downtown, taking notes and deciding how to stage the opera. Thompson and Powell arrived two and a half days before the show – very little time, they said, to stage a 45-minute production.
“The idea was to keep it as fun as possible – you’ll see it’s slap-sticky – but also fun for us,” Clines said.
The trio agreed they perform differently every day.
Thompson, a tenor who began singing opera when he was 20 years old, said he likes the opportunity to teach children that opera can be for all ages.
“Most kids see opera as being something that’s completely boring and only interesting for someone over the age of 75,” Thompson said.
Powell said one experience “almost made me cry” at the beginning of the tour. She said they were crunched for time and couldn’t answer a young girl’s question during the Q & A session. Undeterred, the young girl came up to Powell after, asked her about her dress and gave her a bouquet.
Reservations are made in June or September for the coming year. The cost is $500, and Aldinger said many schools receive financial assistance from donors or sponsors. For more information, call the Toledo Opera at (419) 255-7464.