From the Top Alum Brings Opera to the Young

This just in – From the Top alum and soprano Megan Bell (Show 62, January 2002) recently sang with the touring educational outreach company “Opera for the Young.” Below she shares her arts leadership experience:

Based in Madison, Wisconsin, Opera for the Young (OFY) is dedicated solely to performance outreach, which is part of what makes this company so special. They take a legitimate opera, translate it into English, pare it down to 45-minutes, transport it into a modern-time, fun setting, and perform it for elementary and middle schools in the upper mid-west!

Megan performs with Opera for the Young

In the winter of 2009, I was featured as Adina in Donizetti’s “The Elixir of Love.” Traditionally a 3-hour Italian opera set in a small Italian village, OFY turned it into a 45-minute version, sung in English, taking place in America’s Old West! The character names changed, too. Adina is the prima donna (Miss Addy), the man who pines after her, Nemorino (Jimmy Reno), the tough-stuff sergeant, Belcore (Bill Corey), and Dr. Dulcamara (the name stayed the same but it was sang by a woman instead of a man!) is the town doctor.

The four performers, plus a pianist, did all the leg-work for the weekly performing tours. We drove to each performance site (sometimes as far away as 5 hours!), unloaded the van, set up the backdrop & props, performed, stuck around for photos and a Q&A, tore down the set, loaded up the van, did it all again for a second performance that same day, and then drove to our hotel for the night. We performed 2 shows a day, 5 days a week! It’s not always glamorous living on the road. We had to eat out for every meal and sleep in different hotels every night. Each season, the show is triple-cast so that during the 15-weeks of performances, each individual performer only has to be available for 5 weeks.

Kids watch an Opera for the Young performance eagerly

Another special thing about OFY, is that we got the audience and the school choirs involved. At every school where we performed, the choir director got a packet of music and rehearsal CDs months ahead of time. The choir director prepared the choir students, so that they could be our “opera chorus!” Since our Elixir of Love was set in the Old West, our chorus got to wear cowboy hats and bandannas! We also had two speaking roles for the children – a Justice of the Peace (for the wedding scene) and a Soldier. At each school, we had a short 20-minute rehearsal with the chorus, Justice of the Peace, and Soldier to teach them where to stand and some hand gestures for their singing parts.

I absolutely loved my time with Opera for the Young. To perform for children is something totally different than what opera singers usually do. Opera is usually an art form rarely appreciated by the general public. Opera for the Young takes real, live opera, and makes it accessible for school aged children and their parents and teachers. Many of the people in our audiences never would have thought they could enjoy opera had it not been for OFY. I loved feeling like I was planting little seeds in their brains; teaching them that if they love to sing or play an instrument, they can do it as a career!

I received many notes and drawings from the school students. One 4th grade boy came up to me after a performance, put his pointer finger on the back of my hand, wiggled the skin around, and said, “wow…..You’re a real human!” I said, “of course I am!” He then explained to me that he didn’t think humans could sing like that, and that he thought I might have been an alien.

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