In the Wings

Backstage glimpses with Boston Lyric Opera

A Look Back at 2014's Community Engagement Programs

Jan 9, 2015 4:17:00 PM
By BLO Staff

This Season, the Community Engagement Department at BLO has welcomed two interns to our team, Queenie Fang and Paige Revens. Both Queenie and Paige are already accomplished artists and students, and they have been assisting with events and programming to gain experience in the field of arts administration. We asked them to reflect on the Community Engagement programs of 2014 for this New Year-themed blog post.

Happy New Year!

What does the New Year mean to you? A new beginning? An opportunity to push yourself further? As the Education and Community Engagement Department launches into 2015, let’s look back on the accomplishments and lessons that 2014 brought.

We took opera into the community through an engaging roster of events, including artistic presentations, production insights, and interactive educational programs for youth and adults, that explored the Company’s four productions that fell during the 2014 calendar year: Verdi’s Rigoletto, Bellini’s I Puritani, Verdi’s La Traviata, and Martin’s The Love Potion.

To kick off programming in 2014, in January and February, BLO Emerging Artists, Chelsea Basler and Omar Najmi, and BLO Resident Teaching Artist, Heather Gallagher, visited eight schools across Massachusetts. During these visits they introduced students to opera voice types, characters, and musical motives through interactive activities and performances of excerpts from Rigoletto. BLO also launched its first Music!Words!Opera! in-school residency program, coordinating a series of 10-week classroom visits by Ms. Gallagher to three classrooms!

Photo by Ben Gebo

Next up, BLO partnered with the French Cultural Center and the Dante Alighieri Society of Massachusetts to present a program exploring Rigoletto. Coro Dante conductor, Kevin Galiè delivered a lecture on the history of Verdi’s opera and his inspiration from Victor Hugo’s play Le Roi s’Amuse. French-speaking actors from the French Cultural Center and BLO Artists performed three scenes from both the play and opera in their respective languages for comparison.

February’s Opera Night at the Boston Public Library featured Emmy Award-winning Arts & Entertainment Critic Joyce Kulhawik interviewing celebrated bass, Morris Robinson, in advance of his portrayal of Sparafucile in Rigoletto. In April, BLO Music Director, David Angus provided special insight into the score of Bellini’s bel canto gem, I Puritani, including its famous tour de force soprano arias, for the opera-goer and the opera-curious.

BLO also partnered with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to provide several events in our Signature Series. In March, we traced the influence of Victor Hugo, a superbly creative poet, novelist, playwright, critic, even an opera librettist, on a wide range of musical creations. And in April, we explored operatic “mad scenes” through the roles of Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor and Elvira in I Puritani. Thanks to the performances of BLO Artists, we heard extreme, often poignantly beautiful voices from both musical and literary sources as these women attempted to exist outside the apparently normal and rational boundaries of their own cultures.

Photo by Ben Gebo

As part of BLO’s youth education programs in partnership with Wheelock Family Theatre, we offered two weekend workshops for ages 11-15 in the spring of 2014: Musical Characters: Developing Your Voice & Physicality in March, and Pitch Perfect: Bringing Your Individual Voice to Auditions & Roles in in May. The students were supremely talented and so excited to share their performances with friends and family at the end of each weekend!

BLO received fantastic news in May: an $18,000 grant from the BPS Arts Expansion Fund at EdVestors to expand our Music!Words!Opera! programming and offer professional development to Boston Public Schools teachers during the 2014-2015 school year. This has enabled us to take on 12 schools for artistic visits and residencies this season – we start in January 2015!

Photo by Liza Voll

We also had an exciting and busy end to the summer here at BLO! In August we collaborated with Boston Landmarks Orchestra and presented a program of scenes from past and upcoming productions. It was a wonderful evening, despite being rained out of our original performance location!

We participated in the Boston Public Library’s series “Concerts in the Courtyard.” Scenes were presented with selections of music from the upcoming season as well as some crowd favorites, such as Cinderella and Die Fledermaus. There was something for all ages at this wonderful afternoon performance!

We rounded out the month of August with our summer teacher training workshop for Music!Words!Opera! This event was led by Opera America trainers Clifford Brooks and Neil Ginsberg. Teachers from Boston and surrounding towns gathered at Boston University’s College of Fine Arts for this week-long workshop where they learned how to incorporate opera into their daily lessons with students. The week culminated with the teachers writing, staging, and performing their own original opera titled Voyage, a series of vignettes that depicted immigrant stories from Boston. 

Photos by Elizabeth Mullins

The 2014-15 Season opened in October with Verdi’s La Traviata and a beautiful gala on Opening Night. We also had an extremely well-attended final dress rehearsal, which was open to high school groups, college students, and Music!Words!Opera! teachers.

The Opera Night at the Boston Public Library event this fall
included a lecture by Robert Stanton, professor at Boston College,
regarding the various treatments of the Tristan and Isolde legend, along
with selections of music from different settings of the famed love

October brought two fascinating Signature Series events to the Museum of Fine Arts. The first, titled Ancient Greek Myth and Opera,
was led by Christine Kondoleon, the George D. and Margo Behrakis Senior
Curator of Greek and Roman Art at the MFA, who highlighted some of the
beautiful pieces of Greek art in the museum collection as well as some
of the many opera characters that are based on Roman and Greek mythology
and literature. Next up, Zarzuela and Tonadilla: Powerful Spanish Dramatic Music Traditions
related to the Goya special exhibit on display. BLO coach/accompanist
James Myers presented a lecture along with musical selections from BLO

Photo by Eric Antoniou

Our Opera Annex production of Frank Martin’s The Love Potion took place at Temple Ohabei Shalom in Brookline in November. Our Annex outreach programs began with a special design presentation for Temple community members, Adagio donors of BLO, and Music!Words!Opera! teachers, where the production team demonstrated how they created a stage in the round and used lighting in this unique space. BLO also provided a “backstage tour” for pre-school students at the Temple, showing over one hundred three-year-olds the amazing theatre we created and introducing them to Ms. Gallagher, who is also an Emerging Artist this Season and who performed in the opera!

2014 brought all these special events, not to mention our regular series of Pre-Performance Lectures, free half-hour opera previews before each performance at the Shubert Theatre, and Opera Annex talk-backs, engaging post-show panel discussions featuring members of the cast and creative team.

We love providing fulfilling and diverse experiences for our audiences and look forward to enhancing and expanding these Community Engagement programs in 2015!

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