Opera education hitting a high note
Have you ever smashed a glass with your voice?
Neither have most singers from Stonington-based Salt Marsh Opera, but they've heard the question before from the fifth and sixth graders in local schools who over the past seven years have been attending workshops and performances of world-renowned operas for free.
It's all part of Salt Marsh's education programming that will culminate this year in a condensed one-hour performance of Mozart's "Magic Flute" in English on April 22 at the Garde Arts Center in New London.
"It's a way for us to connect with the kids," said Simon Holt, artistic director and general manager of Salt Marsh Opera. "We've tried it in the language the opera was written in, but there's a stronger sense of connection when it's in a language most of the kids speak."
All schools in the region are invited to the daytime performance, and many of them go if they can provide their own transportation. This year, more than two dozen local schools are expected, including six from New London and seven from Groton.
The New London performance and in-school workshops, funded locally by the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, the Kitchings Foundation, Dominion Foundation and the Frank Loomis Palmer Fund, costs about $30,000, Holt said.
And Salt Marsh goes pretty far afield, up to the Quiet Corner of Connecticut, west to Middletown and into Rhode Island and a part of Massachusetts, putting on eight performances in five different venues at a total cost of $85,000. Overall, 52 schools are involved and 4,500 children reached, he said.
"It introduces opera to a younger audience ... and gives the idea that opera is accessible to everybody," Holt said.
At each school, a young Salt Marsh singer and a piano accompanist put on uncostumed programs for classrooms or sometimes the entire population, talking about opera in general, telling the storyline of each performance and singing a minute or two of favorite arias.
The best thing is that kids get to see opera singers up close and ask them questions, Holt said, such as how they can sing so high or so low, whether it is painful to sing opera and, perhaps most adorably, whether the soprano is really in love with the tenor.
A first sampling of opera, Holt said, can often elicit audible laughter from the kids. But eventually, he said, they get over their discomfort and enjoy the singers.
"They might sound odd on stage, but they're normal people who just chose this art form," he said. "We choose our singers really very carefully."
The performance itself is fully costumed, with scenery and props, along with a piano accompanist. A later performance in the round, at 7 p.m. April 25 at the Knickerbocker Music Center in Westerly, is open to general audiences looking for a similarly condensed version of "The Magic Flute," for the low price of $12 a seat.
"The only thing it hasn't got is the orchestra," Holt said.
If you go
What: Salt Marsh Opera's one-hour performance of Mozart's "Magic Flute"
First show: 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. April 22 at Garde Arts Center, 325 State St., New London
Open to: Schools around the region that are busing in students
Secondary show: 7 p.m. April 25 at the Knickerbocker Music Center, 35 Railroad Ave., Westerly
Open to: Public
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