"I just had to e-mail you about something exciting, truly beautiful and inspirational happening here," wrote baritone John Fanning. The "something exciting" was Opera de Quebec's Draw Me An Opera millennium competition for children in the Quebec City region. Students were asked to submit set, costume and prop designs for a June 2000 production of Mozart's Die Zauberflote. All winners' names were listed in the production program, and every design was displayed in the theatre during the run of the show.
Fanning, who played the role of the Speaker, was enthusiastic about the children's participation. "With the capability of kids in these situations," he said, "and the kind of impression it makes, well, they had it all in spades. It really had the feeling of excitement, honesty and commitment. It was a great pleasure and honor to be part of it."
The Opera de Quebec competition is just one example of the way in which Canadian opera companies are making the effort to educate children about opera. Although the approaches taken by individual companies are as varied as our country's geography, the goal remains the same--to promote an enduring love of opera and its related art forms.
There are a number of educational strategies common to most companies: young artists programs, which allow children the chance to hear promising beginners; dress rehearsals and matinees that students can attend; and special rates for younger audiences. Sponsorships sometimes allow children who normally couldn't afford to attend productions to see an opera. But in addition, each company has its own inventive ideas to lure children into the magical world of opera.
L'Opera de Montreal, for instance, treats its youngest fans to abridged afternoon matinees. Last May, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, complete with sets, costumes and piano accompaniment, was presented to young audiences in one hour. OdeM also gives teachers enticing study guides containing cartoons, material about the current opera and information on the latest CDs, videos and Websites. According to Elise Cote, OdeM's director of development, the education program has been enhanced over the past 10 years as a result of feedback from both teachers and students. "L'Opera de Montreal has made a firm commitment to pursue this important activity," says Cote, "for the benefit of the younger generation who will be our audience in the future."
Like L'Opera de Quebec, Opera Lyra Ottawa has a program called Draw Me An Opera. In Opera Lyra's case, the company launched a partnership with the National Gallery of Canada that has proved so successful, there are plans for further collaborations. The first venture worked like this: to prepare for an abridged English version of La Cenerentola, families could go on a 45-minute tour of the National Gallery, during which staff answered questions about art and, in particular, architecture. The children were shown paintings of different types of buildings and were asked what types of people might have lived in them, when the buildings were built and how they might have been paid for. The families then returned to the gallery's rotunda where they were asked to help Cinderella and her evil stepsisters build three-dimensional castles--whereupon Cinderella and her stepsisters suddenly appeared and mingled with the families, did some role-playing and even sang.
The children's castles were displayed at the National Gallery for two months, and were moved to the lobby of the University of Ottawa theatre in time for the abridged performance. "We had children as young as four years old coming to our Cinderella and being enthralled by it," says Mark Douglas Trask, Opera Lyra's director of marketing and development. "It's important to start the opera experience as early as possible."
The Canadian Opera Company in Toronto has two distinct opera programs for children: the Esso after-school program and the Altamira summer opera camp. …