Hello again, everyone! Welcome back from a rather extended holiday break! The kids are all back in school now, and life can slowly start to return to normal. Today, I am going to continue on the subject of passing opera on to the next generation. I have heard a lot of chatter (or perhaps twitter?) over the last few weeks about ways to attract a younger audience. Most of the talk seemed to be centered around the idea of so-called Tweet Seats. While I very happily participated in last month's Tweet Seat session at Palm Beach Opera's Madama Butterfly, (a dress rehearsal, I should add,) I don't believe that simply letting people play on their phones during the performance is going to get them to want to attend. Rather, honest exposure, ideally at a young age, whether at home or in school, is the surest way to spark interest in opera.
This, of course, is in no way a new idea. I have said it before in previous posts, and I will doubtlessly say it again. But today I am going to write about a (brilliant?) idea I had about one way of doing this. Opera birthday parties!!! Now, I know some of you may be scratching your heads and thinking that I must be crazy, but just hear me out!
The idea came to me this morning, as I was trying to plan my son's ninth birthday party. I was looking online at all the different options available in the area: bowling, arcades, science museums, even the local animal shelter! There were a lot of venues offering sports parties, cooking parties, arts-and-crafts parties, and dance parties. And then it occurred to me: Why not do opera birthday parties? If one enthusiastic child chooses ten or twenty of his closest friends to share opera with, it could trigger a whole chain reaction of spreading an awareness (if not outright love) of opera to a group of children who might otherwise never give it a fair chance.
Now, how to do it? I had some ideas there, too. There are a couple of different options to be considered: the do-it-yourself party, which would require a bit of homework and planning on the part of the parents, and the party organized by a local opera company's Young Artists program, or some such organization. "But wait a minute," you might say. "There are no opera companies offering children's birthday parties!" And you would probably be right. But why shouldn't there be? After all, almost every other type of theater, museum, and miscellaneous entertainment outlet offers several party packages. And while I recognize that these other options may be more popular among children, it would be a wonderful experience for them if such a thing were available.
So here is what I propose to any opera company out there that may be reading this: give it a shot! If no one takes you up on it, what have you lost? And if they do, think of what you have gained: a doorway into the hearts of the next generation. So what might an opera company offer as part of a party package? Well, a package could include one or two young artists who would give a brief background of what opera is, followed by a short performance. These performances could range from some of the more action-packed scenes for boys' parties to the more romantic ones for the girls' parties, or any combination of the two. Afterwards, young party goers could be given the opportunity to participate in recreating the drama and singing the music. Fancy foods and Martinelli's sparkling cider served in plastic champagne flutes could be served to add a celebratory feel to the event. And at the end of the party, each child could go home with an opera-themed goody bag.
For the parents planning an opera party on their own, it might be a little trickier without the personal interaction with the singers and the hands-on music making. But again, a brief overview of opera could be given, followed by a showing of an opera on DVD. One possible opera to show a group of children who are new to it is Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Most of them will probably have heard at least some of the music, the story is highly entertaining, and there is nothing in it that any parent could possibly consider to be objectionable material. (Something like Tosca, on the other hand, might not go over so well with all of the parents.) After the performance, the children could be given an opportunity to talk about their impressions of what they have seen. Again, fancy foods and opera goody bags could tie the whole experience together.
Now, I'm not naive. I know something like this might take some time to catch on, or it may never catch on at all. But if nobody even tries, it certainly never will. And with opera audiences getting older, opera education in the classroom and at home at a low point, and opera companies around the world struggling to bring in young people, something must be done to ensure the continued survival of opera for the next generation. And what better way to pass it on than in a fun, exciting, and celebratory atmosphere? Today's children, who think they have seen everything, can go home from an opera party with memories of a new and thrilling experience, and a thirst to discover more.