Opera Philadelphia

Making An Impact Through Opera

By Michael Bolton

A reflection from Michael Bolton, Vice President of Community Programs at Opera Philadelphia

Friday, October 23–Sunday, November 1 is National Opera Week 2015, when organizations across the country present a variety of activities to celebrate opera. Actor and opera buff David Hyde Pierce, a member of Opera Philadelphia's American Repertoire Council, is Honorary Chairman of National Opera Week.

In the spirit of National Opera Week, I have been reflecting on the way Opera Philadelphia impacts our community. Each year, the company changes students’ lives through the transformative power of opera. We’re not only building future audiences, but we’re helping to build a better Philadelphia through a number of in-school programs. 


Twenty-six years ago Opera Philadelphia debuted Sounds of Learning™, an award-winning, curriculum-based music appreciation program. In that time, more than 150,000 students have attended an opera at the Academy of Music for free. Programs like Sounds of Learning™ have become an invaluable resource and help address the growing gap in arts education and access in the Greater Philadelphia region, reaching 4,370 students last year in the School District of Philadelphia alone.

You might not think that urban youth and opera would go together. Actually, our student audiences are our most enthusiastic! Last month, 1,700 students from Philadelphia and surrounding counties screamed “Brava!” at the top of their lungs, giving Lisette Oropesa’s stunning Violetta Valéry in Verdi’s La traviata a resounding ovation.

Here’s what one student from the C. W. Henry School said about La traviata:

"When our class went to go see the opera it was really cool. I know for me it opened a new window to see so many new and wonderful things that I would love to learn more about in the future. During the opera the duet that really got to me was the one with Violetta and Germont, when Germont came over Violetta and Alfredo's house and told her that she cannot be with his son anymore. It was just the pure sorrow in her eyes. You could see it all over her face and her actions. Also the music showed the tension between the two. It was just really emotional.”

A recent grant from the William Penn Foundation allowed us to bring opera into the schools and reach thousands more students in grades K–12 through free teaching artist programs. Last year, we reached 2300 students and are targeted to significantly surpass that figure this season. Expansion continues this season with a new interactive assembly program exclusively for students in grades 3–8. Learn more>>


This year, students in Hip H’opera, an arts immersion program conducted in partnership with Art Sanctuary, continue to explore creative expression. Students are learning about themselves, each other, and are creating a community of young artists through this program. Hip H’opera students’ writings are the inspiration for a new opera by composer Daniel Bernard Roumain and librettist Marc Bamuthi Joseph, We Shall Not Be Moved. Directed by Bill T. Jones, the opera premieres during O17, the newly announced festival. Hip H’opera students, who are from three high-risk Philadelphia public schools, will work with the legendary director/choreographer leading up to the World Premiere. Learn more>>


Opera Philadelphia continues to give back to the community and bring music to students with T-VOCE (Teen Voices of the City Ensemble), an exciting new program curated with Art Sanctuary. In collaboration with the School District of Philadelphia, T-VOCE is an all-city choir specifically targeting Philadelphia teens with limited or no access to music education. T-VOCE will perform this spring at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts’ International Children’s Festival and at Art Sanctuary’s Celebration of Black Writing.


Educational programs like these bring this compelling art form to youth who might otherwise never experience opera. We invite you to participate in these programs with your support of Opera Philadelphia through a tax-deductible contribution. Your gift will enable the company to deliver arts education programs to worthy students. Together, we are changing lives now and building opera audiences of tomorrow.

Michael Bolton is Vice President of Community Programs at Opera Philadelphia

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