Setting out to prove to young people once again that opera is not an arcane art form, members of Opera of the Hamptons travelled to the Southampton School District earlier this month to educate the students on the power and universality of the age-old form of expression.
Opera, which dates back to the 16th century, is typically far down on the playlist for most teenagers, who generally migrate toward more contemporary forms of music. But, as Opera of the Hamptons Artistic Director Barbara Giancola proved to the Southampton students, opera can be heard all around—in forms as common as present-day commercials, television and movies.
During a three-part program for Southampton’s intermediate and high school pupils, company members including Ms. Giancola, music director Atarah Hazzan, soprano Rosa D’Imperio, mezzo-soprano Irene Silverman, tenor Benjamin Michael Sloman and bass Stephan Kirchgraber undertook the task of educating students about the accessibility of opera. The hour-long programs featured the four singers performing snippets of popular opera tunes as well as formal songs, or arias, and sharing interesting details about the musical genre.
Opening the first of three programs at the intermediate school, Ms. Giancola welcomed approximately 60 sixth- and seventh-grade vocal students with an operatic “good morning” before questioning the pupils on their knowledge of opera. Few hands shot up when Ms. Giancola asked how many students had seen a live opera performance, but nearly every child in the room admitted to some exposure to the genre after Ms. Giancola’s prompting.
“You hear opera all the time but you might not realize it,” she said. “You hear it in Bugs Bunny cartoons, in commercials, television and the movies.”
To prove Ms. Giancola’s point, the four singers then sang short sections of recognizable tunes.
Leading off the performances, Ms. D’Imperio sang a bit of music from the latest Jean Paul Gaultier perfume commercial, sung in the television advertisement by opera crossover star Sarah Brightman. Though many of the students didn’t know the music, they did recognize Ms. Brightman’s name, from her role as Christine in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera.”
The students then showed their untapped knowledge of opera by recognizing the pieces sung later by Ms. Silverman, a tune from “La Bohème” currently featured in a car commercial; Mr. Sloman, a piece from “Rigoletto,” which was recently repopularized by the Three Tenors; and Mr. Kirchgraber. who served up the “Toreador” opening from “Carmen.” Popular arias from Verdi’s “La Traviata,” Puccini’s “Turandot,” Ruggero Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci,” and even “Some Enchanted Evening” from the Broadway musical “South Pacific” were later performed individually, in duets and as a chorus.
Though the three hour-long sessions were mainly focused on showing the students how opera is part of everyday life, the children also learned tidbits about the genre (no microphones are used in opera) and musical terms such as aria.
Southampton Intermediate School music teacher and coordinator Sue Rumpf said that the Opera of the Hamptons visit was particularly appealing as it provides a great way to introduce the students to a musical genre that is often overlooked by young people.
“This experience really gives the students an opportunity they might not see otherwise,” she said, adding that hearing and seeing the singers perform in person added even more to the program. “It’s great exposure for the kids to see opera live, so they can really experience the passion and impact.”