Established in 1970, Opera for the Young (OFTY) has evolved from its founders’ “labor of love” to its present status as a fully professional opera company. OFTY is an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit and is not affiliated with any other organization.
The mission of Opera for the Young is to ignite enthusiasm for opera.
The artistic vision in pursuit of that mission:
- Engage and educate children about opera with professional, affordable school-based performances;
- Involve students in all aspects – from design to performance;
- Provide professional opportunities for artists;
- Create new works especially intended for young audiences;
- Broaden access to opera for the entire community.
Opera for the Young brings live, professional opera to elementary school audiences with annual Fall and Spring tours. Students appear onstage in chorus and cameo roles, performing for their peers right alongside OFTY’s professional artists. All productions are fully staged, sung in English and adapted especially for kids.
Optional artist-in-residence packages – “Class Chats” – supplement basic OFTY programming. Experience confirms that residencies greatly enhance our product. Residency artists reach children on a far more personal basis; they have the luxury of time to make personal connections with the entire student body. Because residency programs are incorporated into the students’ own classrooms, they make a lasting, profound impression. Residency schools develop a vastly increased sense of ownership in the OFTY experience.
On the day of the performance, the cast arrives at the school. That morning, cast members travel to individual classrooms where they lead discussions about opera and prepare students for their upcoming roles as chorus and audience members. In the afternoon, our cast of four professional singers and one pianist, along with 16 students in chorus and cameo speaking roles, presents the opera for the entire school, in the school gym. A question-and-answer period with the cast follows each performance.
Each year, OFTY reaches over 75,000 elementary school children throughout the Midwest to ignite an enthusiasm for opera.
OFTY also offers schools suggestions for visual art enrichment activities in our annual “Be a Designer” contest. Art and classroom teachers are encouraged to invite students to create thematic production design elements (e.g. costumes, masks, signs, hats, hallway displays, etc.) all in pursuit of stirring up enthusiasm for the coming collaborative performance. Participating students and/or classrooms receive certificates and public recognition on the day of the show.
Our process is involved and successful. Months in advance of our program, each school receives teaching materials: a full libretto; a student handbook; a teachers’ guide; tutorial and cast recordings; and evaluation forms. The music teacher uses these materials to prepare the student chorus. The teacher also prepares the rest of the student body so that each child is a well-informed audience member able (and encouraged!) to sing along from his/her seat during the performance.
OFTY audiences become acquainted with the original scores of master composers, set in contexts interesting and relevant to kids’ 21st-century lives. Our Barber of Seville is updated to the 1950s; The Magic Flute is set in space. The Elixir of Love takes place in the Old West. OFTY’s repertoire also includes Massenet’s Cinderella, Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, Dvorak’s Rusalka, and a work based on the masterpieces of Gluck, Offenbach and Monteverdi, entitled, Orpheus Returns, and Gretry’s 1772 classical French opera Beauty and the Beast. Every opera features four professional singers and one pianist. (All professional roles are triple cast.)
Recent cast members include a Grammy award winner, Metropolitan Opera national and regional audition winners, choristers and featured artists from the Lyric Opera of Chicago, university faculty members and members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus. All are conservatory graduates and active recitalists.
OFTY has been honored with project support from the National Endowment for the Arts, and these prestigious endorsements reflect OFTY’s growing reputation as a national leader in arts education.