Dallas Opera CEO Keith Cerny understands the importance of building a strong community footprint. Under his leadership The Dallas Opera (TDO) is already making a difference throughout the DFW Metroplex by reaching out to all communities. Education is emphasized and TDO’s after school program helped an estimated 25,000 children in the Dallas ISD. When asked how the opera’s summer campTDO teaches young children about such a complex art form, Mr. Cerny and Media Director Suzanne Calvin felt a firsthand experience would be a valuable experience.
The Dallas Opera’s campTDO through a journalist’s eyes
TDO’s camp for school age children is held for two weeks each summer at their spacious Karayanis Rehearsal Production Center located directly across from historic Fair Park. A friendly staff welcomed approximately 100 children at 9 a.m. They were escorted inside a comfortable air-conditioned facility wearing colorful campTDO T-shirts.
After being divided into groups the campers learned about opera etiquette. Throwing items off the balcony was a no-no. Talking during the performance was rude. One child shared that bringing pets to the opera was a bad idea and the others quickly nodded. Then the students learned about the building blocks of opera.
Next the campers moved into another large room with bleachers and a piano. They explored the world of John Davies’ operatic version of “Jack and the Beanstalk” using the lively music of Arthur Sullivan. Young professional opera singers ran the workshop and kept the concepts simple and fun. The students learned about singing positions with “Simon Says” practices. They studied the first aria of the opera sung by Jack.
“If you give me your attention, I will tell you who I am.
My name is Jack Be-nimble and I’m known throughout this land
I am a famous fellow as you very soon shall see
For every Jack in this whole world is named after me” --John Davies
The students were taught to sing with gusto, use their diaphragm and emphasize the lyrics with animated gestures. There were many smiles as their shyness melted away. Children as young as five jumped into the performance with ease.
Following the singing lesson the campers moved into another huge space where they were divided into three groups. Each group warmed up and then learned choreography to the music. The younger children were more eager and uninhibited and the pre-teens were more self-conscious. One tween wanted so badly to dance but checked the older students out first to see what they were doing. This experience emphasized the importance of introducing young students to the arts before they decide that opera is not for them.
Suzanne Calvin used a term “The Margaret Dumont Syndrome” when referring to those who feel opera is stodgy, overwrought with drama and starring portly women wearing scary pointed breast shields and Viking helmets. Mrs. Dumont played the wealthy dowager Mrs. Claypool in the seriously funny Marx Brother’s film “A Night at the Opera.” Groucho Marx spoofed the opera “La traviata” using the erudite Margaret Dumont as his foil.
Dallas Opera’s campTDO was a fun filled camp that sneaked in opera education and hopefully dispelled many of the stereotypes adults associate with it. Following their choreography lesson the campers went into another area and enjoyed nutritious snacks and some down time. Students from another group were creating art showing what Jack did with his gold after climbing the magic beanstalk.
The camp ended with a 45-minute production of “Jack in the Beanstalk.” The production starred Hanna Rigg (Jack), Emily Hueske (Mother/Giant’s wife) and Travis McGuire (Peddler/Giant). The opera singers during alternate days were Christian Teague (in the vocal training department who sang the role of the Peddler/Giant), Laura Begley (Mother/Giant’s wife) and Lauren Smith (Jack).
The young campers were fascinated by the production. They understood the jokes, the deeper messages and reacted positively in the right places. Hopefully many of the children fell in love with the opera enough to become future musicians, opera stars, directors or loyal fans of this fabulously entertaining art form.