Opera may seem like work for the grand stage.
But at the front of a crowded assembly room in Lake Worth imaginatively costumed performers recently presented an epic tale of striving, loss and the triumph of friendship: The Adventures of Lola & Friends.
The three-act opera was written by the very same troupe of performers — around 20 students, in grades 3-5, from nearby North Grade Elementary School.
Helping kids write and perform their own opera is part of an afterschool education program called Arts In My Backyard, offered by the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County. Now in its second year, the council partners with cultural organizations to get kids involved in the visual and performing arts.
One day a week for eight weeks the students from North Grade conceived and executed the whole project — plot, lyrics, set design and costuming —with guidance from professionals at the Palm Beach Opera, the organization that teamed up with the Cultural Council on this program.
“We want the students to know that opera is for everyone,” said Abbey Ward, education associate with Palm Beach Opera. “If you like stories, and you like music, you’ll love opera.”
At their essense, operas are singers using their voices to tell a story, Ward said. And if you think it's all ladies with horns singing to shatter a glass, think again.
“Operas can be about anything,” Ward said.
Case in point: The Adventures of Lola & Friends. The kids wanted their main character to be an enchanted animal.
“A narwhal pegasus,” Ward said of their selection, laughing, “which I didn’t even know was a thing!”
After bestowing a name on their narwhal pegasus, “Lola,” the students set about choosing other key elements to frame their story.
Genre? Adventure. Setting? A forest. Plot point? Lola discovers a new land.
Spoiler alert: Everything works out in the end.
Palm Beach Opera’s Michael Bischoff directed the kids' opera program. For one of the group’s meetings, he guided them on a backstage tour of Palm Beach Opera’s production of Candide at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts.
“To see the sets, see the actors, see the stage management, lighting, costumes, backstage, everything,” said Bischoff, “so they can get an idea of the jobs and things that go on in a real live opera.”
The Arts In My Backyard program bridges a gap for students who otherwise might not ever attend an opera, according to Cultural Council Arts and Cultural Education Manager Ericka Squire.
“It allows them to know there is a world — the world of opera —that they can have a place within,” said Squire.