AMSGNY Announcements

Opera Education Panel Report

Feb. 16, 2013

Panelists: Robert Butts, John Dunlap, Karen Hiles, Stuart Holt, David Hurwitz, Catherine Ludlow, Robert Walters

Respondent: Jeff Dailey

The purpose of this panel was to encourage dialogue among panelists and conference attendees concerning opera education. Some questions that arose include: Who are we educating and why? Is it not opera education so much as opera evangelism? Should new operas be populist? How is the delivery of opera in HD changing the way operas are written and produced? How should opera be introduced to youth?

The discussion addressed the politics of opera accessibility. David Hurwitz stated that opera has never been economical, and will always be elitist. Several speakers cited the advantages of HD performances: they are more affordable, often easier to get to, and do not require a season subscription. The movie format is more familiar to many, and can therefore serve as a good entry point for people who are new to opera. Yet Hurwitz warned people to be wary of a possible two-tiered class structure that could emerge from the differences between opera in the theater and opera in HD. Will HD ultimately hinder the success of local opera performances? Stuart Holt acknowledged that opera is becoming more accessible through the efforts of the Metropolitan Opera Guild and university programs (such as Nashville, where graduate students bring opera to local schools), and that opera becomes more accessible once it is demystified. This commitment to demystification resonated with many of the respondents. Bob Walters recommended interactive approaches to opera education, such as relating operas to popular movies. He stressed that interactivity was essential when introducing children to opera.

Specific strategies for teaching opera were debated. Karen Hiles characterized opera as “the ideal subject for a liberal arts course.” She described a potential course in which 6 operas would be studied over the course of the semester, with two weeks devoted to each. She outlined a possible format for class meetings pertaining to each opera as follows: Day 1—Introduction to the opera; Day 2—Opera screening with professor commentary and class discussion; Day 3—“lens reading” in which students read articles that provide historical or cultural context; Day 4—Class discussion of the reading material. Barbara Hanning also offered specific suggestions: assign parts to read/act out from the scene that is going to be viewed in class. After viewing the scene, compare the two modes of delivery…the libretto alone and the libretto, music, and staging combined. Sylvia Kahan pointed out that operatic time is usually more drawn out than film time because the communication of operatic events is so concrete. Clearly opera is its own medium, distinct from other musical and film genres. Respondents generally agreed that opera should be actively promoted amongst all age groups using interactive and engaging methods.

Bethany Cencer, AMS-GNY Secretary

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