Opera for kids has moved into the 21st century.
“We wanted something more up to date and current than fairy tales,” said Lawrence Edelson, Opera Saratoga’s artistic and general director, about the company’s Opera-to-Go program, which annually brings a kids’ opera to more than 50 schools in three states. The program’s numerous free local public performances start this Saturday.
Opera-to-Go ‘Operation Superpower’
Feb. 20: 2:30 p.m.: Schenectady Civic Playhouse, 12 S. Church St., Schenectady
Feb. 27: 11 a.m.: Saratoga Children’s Museum, 320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs
Feb. 27: 2:30 p.m.: Arts Center of the Capital Region, 265 River St., Troy
March 5: 11 a.m.: Crandall Public Library, 251 Glen St., Glens Falls
March 5: 2:30 p.m.: Clifton Park-Halfmoon Library, 475 Moe Road, Clifton Park
March 12: 10 a.m.: Saratoga Springs Public Library, 49 Henry St., Saratoga Springs
March 19: 2 p.m.: New York State Museum, 222 Madison Ave., Albany
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: 584-6018, www.operasaratoga.org
In the past, the operas combined a libretto based on familiar children’s stories with music culled from works by such composers as Mozart, Rossini or Beethoven. Although the scripts were wonderful, the shows had been written years before, Edelson said.
Last summer during a talk with baritone John Brancy, who sang in OS’s production of “La Cenerentola,” Edelson learned about the kid’s opera Brancy had co-written called “Operation Superpower.”
“It’s a story about self-empowerment, about kids embracing their uniqueness, about being against bullying,” Edelson said.
Kids get into the act
“It’s a piece of theater that engages kids into getting them to think about what makes them special. Kids will not be sitting there passively, but will engage in the dialogue. Even the pianist has a role.”
Brancy wrote the 40-minute show with baritone Tobias Greenhaigh, composer Armand Ranjbaran, and pianist Peter Dugan when they were students at The Juilliard School.
The idea to write a superhero opera came in 2009 from Ranjbaran during late night conversations. That idea was put on the back burner until three years later when the four men began working with Juilliard’s Entrepreneurial and Professional Mentorship program and were told to come up with their own characters rather than comic book characters.
“This was a big shift for us,” Brancy said in an email. “But once we discovered the potential of our very own superpowers [singing, composing, and playing piano], we realized it was a perfect combination of comic Superhero energy and its real application for kids.”
They premiered the show in 2012 in Long Island schools and more than 30 times the next year. To date about 50,000 children have seen the show and, Brancy said, they were working with many opera companies in North America for Young Artists to perform it. Those are statistics that Edelson likes to hear.
“We go into more than 50 schools where audiences can be between 50 and 400 elementary schools kids from kindergarten through sixth grade,” he said.
“Each season more than 15,000 children see the opera over a six-week period, and every year our goal is to add another week of performances, which equates to 10 more schools. It’s vital that we’re engaging with as many live audiences as possible.”
The program is not cheap. Direct costs are more than $100,000 with school budgets funding about one third of the expenses and the rest being underwritten by grants from corporations, foundations and individuals.
It is also essential that the show have the right talent.
“Opera-to-Go needs the same level of artistic integrity as what’s on the main stage,” Edelson said.
Two of the performers this year, including the pianist, are alumni from the company’s Young Artist program. The other two singers came from the more than 1,000 applicants for the Young Artist program that Edelson heard, from whom he chose 29.