Kid friendly opera in the classroom

Opera often is considered esoteric at best, stuffy and boring at worst. Thanks to the efforts of the Chicago Opera Theater, it is neither of those things for a growing number of Chicago Public School students.

Opera for All

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This fall, children in first through sixth grades from seven CPS schools will participate in a program called Opera for All. The program features a partnership between the schools and COT, whose mission partly is to make opera fresh, engaging, and accessible to all.

Opera for All brings in COT teaching artists who work with students and their classroom teachers to write and perform an opera. It begins in September with the basics.

“When we say opera, a lot of kids think it’s Oprah,” says director Linden Christ. “We spend the first month just talking about what opera is.”

With help from the experts at COT, the children write an original libretto, compose music, make props, sing, dance and act their way through imaginative, sometimes whimsical, operas with names like “When Field Trips Attack!” and “Lost in New York.”

Until recently, the students worked with adaptations of operas that previously had been performed by COT. When they were allowed to write their own material, however, the interest level increased dramatically.

“They own this show,” teaching artist Lisa Golda says.

Fifth-grader Selmir Kurtovic confirms that sentiment when asked what he enjoyed most about this year’s opera. Without hesitation, he says, “When I got to write and perform my own rap.”

Teachers have observed that the process of writing and composing helps develop reading and writing skills, while the creative element contributes to positive dynamics in the classroom. Christ also points out the benefits of delayed gratification and the rewards that come from seeing a project to completion, starting with an idea and finishing with a live stage production eight months later.

Last June the enthusiasm was palpable as more than 60 students sang and danced before a full auditorium at Clinton Elementary. Opera boring? No way! These kids could make anyone a believer.

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