Opera for the Young (Madison, WI)


        Man and woman on stage, singing, with large harp to the left.

Orpheus's Harp encourages him to use his magical voice to help save the environment in Opera for the Young's production of Orpheus Returns. Photo courtesy of Opera for the Young.

With only four singers and one pianist, Opera for the Young (OFY) has brought professional, specially adapted opera productions to elementary school audiences since 1970, reaching more than 90,000 students each year. OFY's performances, however, are only one part of its effort to interest students in opera. Months before OFY begins its tour, students submit costume and set design drawings, and OFY selects its favorite ideas and incorporates them into the final set and costume designs. In addition to the performance, schools have the option of participating in an "Opera by Design" residency, led by OFY's production designer.

OFY developed the opera Orpheus Returns (or The Case of the Underworld Zoo) during their 1993- 94 season and chose to revive it for their 2006-07 tour. They received an NEA Access to Artistic Excellence grant of $10,000 to support this tour in approximately 170 elementary schools across Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

Adapted from the Greek myth, Orpheus Returns emphasizes the power of music and the importance of caring for endangered animals and the environment. One of OFY's unique practices is the integration of the students into the performances.

All schools that book an OFY performance receive teaching materials for music classes--this allows the students to learn the chorus parts. For Orpheus Returns, a group of students at each school joined the singers on stage by playing the endangered animals.

The success of OFY's performances is due to its focus on collaboration and participation; by learning the chorus music, submitting design ideas, and interacting with the artists, students become much more engaged and involved in the production, and therefore, in the world of opera.

(From the NEA 2006 Annual Report)