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Opera Tampa Singers Ensure Opera’s Future One Aria at a Time

teaching opera to kids

“How did you get into opera singing?”
“How do you sing so loud without a microphone?”
“Do you speak Italian?”
“How old were you when you started?”

Soprano Kristi Beinhauer beams among a throng of middle school students who rushed her after the opera assembly where many of them experienced — for the first time — the awe-inspiring thrill of great opera music. They are enthralled, bursting with questions, and, as Kristi describes the joy of passing along a love of opera to 11- to 13-year-olds, “It’s like looking at the faces of a bunch of little me’s — kids who know they can sing but never knew they wanted to sing opera until they heard it.”

This assembly, performed at Progress Village Middle Magnet School of the Arts, is one of many outreach programs Opera Tampa undertakes to spread the joy of opera to young people. Kristi, a member of the Opera Tampa Singers who also performs in  The Barber of Seville, cherishes her opportunity to travel around the Tampa Bay area performing for senior centers, after-school programs and for this specific outreach, Opera in Schools.

“What we do is so important,” she says, “because we’re not just cultivating the next generation of audiences for opera, but we’re creating the next generation of singers. These are very talented young people who would otherwise not get this direct, professional-level exposure to opera. When they have an Opera in Schools program with us and realize, like I did, ‘Hey, I can sing like that but I didn’t know it was a style,’ they’ll be the next opera performers. I love answering their questions and helping them figure out how to start in this field.”

For this program, Robin Stamper, the managing director and chorus master for Opera Tampa (who also conducts this season’s  The Marriage of Figaro), teaches the entire auditorium of middle schoolers the finale to  The Barber of Seville. Kristi and the other members of the Opera Tampa Singers hold up signs reading “Confused,” “Happy” or “Angry,” and the sixth, seventh and eighth graders respond by interpreting the Barber finale according to the emotion.

“It’s called the ‘emotion game,’ and it teaches the students how to connect the words and music to an emotion, just like any opera singer would do. When we teach them how music connects to emotion, it gives these young people so many ways to approach complex emotions that they often don’t get to deal with, or know how to deal with, in their non-musical lives,” Kristi says.

“What’s more is that they learn the Barber finale and then actually get to see it in the dress rehearsal, another aspect of our outreach programs — bringing school children to watch us in dress,” she says. So, these children will not only meet and learn from opera singers, but then they’ll get to see them onstage performing an aria they learned during an Opera in Schools program.

The circle of education is complete: the next generation can see the visible, attainable pathway from having the dream to becoming the professional. “Plus,” Kristi adds, “it’s more fun for kids to see the opera when they themselves performed part of it.”

You can ensure the future of programs like Opera in Schools through a future gift to the Straz Center. Contact Chris Harrell, CFRE at 813.202.1514 or Christopher.Harrell@StrazCenter.org to learn more.