In the Wings

Backstage glimpses with Boston Lyric Opera

Back to School with Boston Lyric Opera

Sep 9, 2013 11:30:00 AM
By BLO Staff

A familiar buzz is in the Boston air this week with thousands of students, from pre-schoolers to grad students, going back to school.  At BLO, there’s a similar buzz as we prepare for a new season.  After a summer of adventures including free performances on Boston Common with Outside the Box, a beautiful outdoor concert in collaboration with Boston Landmarks Orchestra on the Esplande, and a concert at the Boston Public Library packing the Rabb Lecture Hall of the BPL Central Branch in Copley Square, there is now great anticipation for going back to the theatre. 

The voices of BLO rang throughout the city this summer; but also, perhaps more quietly, but just as powerfully, rang the voices of New England teachers participating in BLO’s Music! Words! Opera! professional development workshop for teachers at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.  Over the course of five days, eleven general classroom and music educators from Boston Public Schools and surrounding districts, including Lowell, and even Providence, RI gathered together to explore methods and activities to introduce their students to opera.

Working under the guidance of OPERA America Teaching Artists Neil Ginsberg and Clifford Brooks (one of the original authors of the M!W!O! curriculum) teachers modeled the experience of learning about Aïda using the M!W!O! curriculum textbook, and even more impressively, in one short week, modeled the process of writing an original classroom opera with their students by actually writing one themselves.  Going through this collaborative process together allows teachers to experience the process as their students might, but also gives them the opportunity to practice teaching foundational skills in areas like:

•    Dramatic and music performance        •    Music  composition
•    Dramatic writing                                •    Teamwork
•    Problem-solving                                 •    Emotional intelligence
•    Communication skills

Workshop participants touring the ISG Museum

Workshop participants decided early on to write an opera about Isabella Stewart Gardner.  The group took a field trip Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum to do some research and explore the life of Boston’s renowned philanthropist and art collector for their 20-minute opera, Canvas and Wood.  The libretto focuses on a young and resistant museum visitor named Cara who encounters a portrait of Ms. Gardner that comes to life.  Ms. Gardner introduces her to the artwork in her collection, and ends with the audience seeing an older Cara volunteering in the museum as a guide.  The art collector remembers her time as the subject of scandal in Boston, revealed through lyrics such as, Scandel! Scandel! – Brought to Boston through the art that she got lost in!  As they travel through the museum, artwork comes to life and is set to music – including portraits singing Strauss-like, in German, a gypsy sings a rousing call-and-response song in Spanish, a beautiful Mother and Child Magnificent, and even a portrayal of the infamous art theft that robbed us all of some of our artistic heritage.

Teachers will bring this curriculum to their classrooms with support from BLO throughout the year, culminating in a Festival of Classroom Operas presented in partnership with Wheelock Family Theatre.  In writing operas of their own, students will not just be getting an experience in art for art’s sake – though that is tremendously valuable.  They are able to explore the world through an operatic lens in their classroom – whether it’s singing in foreign language, adapting classic works of literature, or bringing historical events to life, opera is a means to explore the world around us, peak students’ curiosity, and tackle big questions.  A perfect example of this is the big question posed by Canvas and Wood, as posed by our M!W!O! workshop facilitator, Clifford Brooks:

Are opera houses static places where people go just to see actual museum pieces, or is the opera house a vibrant living place—where every time you engage with a piece you learn something, you see something opened up?  Do the pieces speak to you in different ways?  Museums wrestle with this all the time, we wrestle with this all the time as we sell [opera] tickets … All of us, as we go through life, we meet pieces of art that have awakened our senses, that we’ve had conversations with.  Either in our dreams, or as we stand there in awe and speak.

As BLO goes back to the theatre, and as these educators go back to school, we’ll endeavor together to keep opera a vibrant, living art form.

Megan Cooper
Director of Community Engagement

To read Megan's reflections on the 2013 Music! Words! Opera! Festival click here.
To watch the ensemble workshop performance of the original opera created by this year's participating teachers click here.

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