Opera strives to strike a chord with U.S. youth

Wed Jan 28, 2015 7:23am EST
 
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By Mary Wisniewski

CHICAGO (Reuters) - In a public high school in a working-class neighborhood of Chicago, opera singer Eric Owens recently talked with a music class about stage fright, proper breathing and making words matter.

"It's got to be like it's coming out of your toes," said the bass-baritone, as he coached the occasionally giggly but attentive freshmen through an early 17th-century Italian madrigal. "Like you're saying it for the first time."

Many teens are learning about opera for the first time thanks to one of many national outreach programs aimed at turning kids on to an old art form and injecting an aging, shrinking fan base with new life.

The news for U.S. opera has been gloomy in recent years with big opera companies like the New York City Opera and the Baltimore Opera Company shutting down. Nationally just 2.1 percent of Americans saw an opera in 2012, down from 3.2 percent in 2002, according to the National Endowment for the Arts.

The generational news is worse. Among those under the age of 25, just 1.8 percent saw an opera in 2012 compared to 3.3 percent for those aged 65-74.

"There's a concern that if we see a lot of senior citizens, what happens when they pass away and who will fill those seats?" said Cayenne Harris, manager of Chicago's "Lyric Unlimited" outreach program at the city's 61-year-old Lyric Opera.

ARIAS AND ADOLESCENTS   Continued...

 
Opera singer Ana Maria Martinez (L) receives a gift from students at Lake View High School in Chicago, Illinois, October 22, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Young