Arts and Culture

Opera for the Young makes a timeless art approachable

Group allows kids to embrace the classics, too

If your child comes home from school one day singing arias, you can thank Opera for the Young for that.
But OFTY does more than just teach—it brings children into the performance itself. Founded in Madison in 1970 by a group of professional singers, pianists and University of Wisconsin–Madison staff, the group travels throughout Madison and Dane County to put on educational, interactive performances. Since its formation, OFTY has reached more than 2.5 million students. OFTY also has traveled to school districts throughout the Midwest and Kentucky, and the 45-minute production package (sets, costumes and opera adaptation) have been rented by companies and conservatories throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Artistic director Diane Garton Edie began as an OFTY singer in 1992 and has been instrumental in adapting some of the great operas for kids. Each performance lasts about 45 minutes, is sung in English, is performed in full costume, and uses four professional singers and at least 16 students from the school who have memorized the music. Student audience members can sing along with their friends during the chorus.

This school year’s production is Donizetti’s venerable romantic comedy “The Elixir of Love” and it will be showcased in Kaukauna, Deerfield and Beloit, among other places, before arriving March 1 at Shorewood Hills and Lindbergh Elementary schools. New to the program this year are materials in Spanish, and students and teachers have responded enthusiastically.

Saira Frank, who started as a singer in 2008 and is now OFTY’s managing director, says the group’s programs are expanding beyond schools.

“We now have an Opera for the Young at Heart, where we bring the shows to venues such as the Colonial Club [in Sun Prairie] and Attic Angels,” Frank says. “For those shows, we bring a group of students from a school that has recently performed the opera, and the kids love the feeling of a road trip.”

There is one other new development. In 2018, OFTY plans to add a rotation of nine operas, one of which is a newly commissioned work.

Almost makes us want to go back to school again.


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