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.
OFTY was founded in 1970 by six musicians with a passion for opera and a vision to take professional performance into schools. In operatic stories, they saw the best elements of children’s literature: compelling drama, humor, and unique characters. In operatic music, they found a powerful tool for conveying emotion, revealing character, and underscoring dramatic shifts. In operatic production, they saw a rich visual language that could awaken the senses. Through innovation, they saw the possibility of artistic creation that could transform how young people thought about opera and the arts. Over these 46 seasons, the company has selected classic operas and adapted them for children.
During the 1970s, OFTY presented operatic one acts and scenes in the school setting.
In the 1980s, the organization moved forward in its professional profile, hiring its first Artistic Director and establishing non-profit status. Teaching materials, a student chorus, and the “Be a Designer” contest, three innovations that deepened the commitment to student participation, were integrated.
Further development in the 1990s refined and improved both the artistic model and the operational structure needed to expand the tour.
In the 2000s, new repertoire was developed, teaching materials were expanded, the evaluation process was fine-tuned, and OFTY focused on improving overall artistic quality. An endowment was created that added to the company’s stability. This decade also saw the beginning of the rental project which has taken our adaptations to new audiences in Arkansas, Missouri, Ohio, and Oklahoma. Since 2010, the rental progam has expanded to collaborations with companies in Californa, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Texas, Virginia, Wyoming, and in Canada: Ottawa and Newfoundland.
From 2011-2014, OFTY worked with the Madison Children’s Museum to provide an innovative summer camp, Build Your Own Opera, where professional teaching artists helped young people tell a story with music and create an original production design, learning the many elements that make an opera. This decade marked the beginning of Family Opera Day, a public family event held annually at the Madison’s Overture Center.
OFTY has premiered two new adaptations and a new opera since 2012: Cinderella (Massenet) in 2012, Beauty and the Beast (Grétry) in 2014, and a work of opera by Scott Gendel and Diane Garton Edie, Super Storm!, for the 2018/19 season.
2016 saw the addition of a Spanish-language supplement to OFTY’s programming. Using the new Ópera para los jóvenes dual-language materials, schools with a high population of Spanish-speaking students are able to engage students and their families on a new level. Beginning in 2018, all of the extensive teaching materials are entirely accessible online for host schools. In addition to the password-protected materials for teachers, we have also made the student tutorial audio tracks freely available – many students use this resource to practice their chorus music during lunchtime, recess, or from their home computers. Enabling students to be more active in their own preparation has eased some of the demands on the already stretched time of our host teacher collaborators. A key result of OFTY programming is the myriad benefits of student participation. Students exercise creativity, team building, leadership skills, working together, and pride in shared ownership. Participants gain increased self-confidence. Furthermore, this work is helping to build the next generation of artists, arts enthusiasts, and arts supporters/philanthropists.
Our company’s evolution has delivered on the founders’ original vision. Since 1970, OFTY has introduced well over 2.5 million children to their first live, professional opera.