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FWOpera: More Than Meets The EyeThursday, August 16, 2012 By Frankie Farrar-Helm
Our productions do more than just dazzle thousands of eyes and ears—we create jobs, generate revenue for the local economy, and attract cultural tourists to Fort Worth. FWOpera has grown into one of the city's foremost arts organizations. Plus, with our various community partnerships and educational outreach, we are inspiring the lives of many children and adults each day.
FWOpera understands the importance of education in the community. Though funding for arts programs at schools is slowly being restored, many schools lack the necessary resources to bring the performing arts to their students. FWOpera tackles this issue head-on with the Children's Opera Theatre (COT). Beginning more than 30 years ago, COT now reaches approximately 50,000 elementary school students annually in schools across the state. The program expanded in 2002 and is now the most extensive opera education program in Texas.
The Fort Worth Opera Studio, a year-round training program, helps aspiring young artists bridge the gap between education and their professional career. In addition to performing in COT, the artists (four singers and one pianist) are taught by highly experienced professionals in various fields such as voice training, stage movement, and foreign language. FWOpera helps support their auditions and lines up performances for them throughout the year. During the Festival, Studio singers usually have one or two onstage roles and one cover role (a role which they study and will eventually grow into during their career). The Studio artists are cast from annual national auditions, and they have the opportunity to participate in the program for up to two years.
In COT productions, the Studio artists perform familiar children's fairy tales set to music from well-known operas. Combined with colorful sets and larger-than-life costumes, the performances allow students to experience the world of opera in a way that's fun and educational. A question-and-answer session follows every performance so the students can interact with the performers and learn how opera is created. The COT productions for the 2012-2013 school year are The Bremen Town Musicians and Little Red's Most Unusual Day. In 2011-2012 alone, COT performed 89 shows throughout schools across Texas, as well as for Fort Worth's Day in the District and for special spring break shows that were open to the general public.
Adult education continues to be an important factor in sharing the magic of opera. Opera Shots, a free outreach program, allows both opera enthusiasts and first-timers to hear a variety of opera arias in the relaxed, social environment of a local bar or pub. The Libretto newsletter, mailed to each ticket holder, provides additional educational information for each opera production of the Festival season.
FWOpera also reaches out into the community with Leadership Fort Worth Opera, which provides an opportunity for young leaders from various corporations and business sectors to engage in an interactive two-year "curriculum" so they can learn about the opera artform in general and FWOpera specifically. Leadership Fort Worth Opera was recognized in 2007 by Opera America with its Bravo! Success Award for recognizing outstanding efforts to achieve opera awareness in the community.
In recent years, FWOpera has expanded COT's reach through a partnership with the Red Oak Foundation, a local children's literacy foundation. Red Oak donates books based on the fairy tales portrayed in the COT productions, and FWOpera volunteers visit the schools and read the stories with the children to help the students improve their reading skills. The Studio artists then visit to perform the opera version of what they just read. To date in 2012, the Red Oak Foundation has donated 900 books to nine Fort Worth ISD elementary schools.
In order to give opera fans the chance to gain a better understanding of what they'll see onstage at the Festival, FWOpera hosts an eclectic array of events around town. Educational lectures and concerts are held annually at the Kimbell, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, and the Amon Carter Museum.
The 2008 Festival brought the community together with performances of Angels in America, an opera that explores the AIDS crisis. As the first major American company to perform the opera, FWOpera issued a call to action to educate the public about the wide-reaching impact of the disease and to reduce the stigma associated with it. Partnering with three local AIDS Service Organizations (ASOs)—AIDS Outreach Center, Samaritan House, and Tarrant County AIDS Interfaith Network—FWOpera worked to develop an effective project known as the More Life Festival.
Made possible by the dedicated efforts of 50 organizations in the arts, science, and education sectors, More Life featured several events and activities across Fort Worth which heightened awareness of the AIDS crisis. During the two-month community-wide event, thousands attended Town Hall meetings, poetry readings, music and dance performances, exhibits, film showings, and health forums. Additionally, members of Kids Who Care, a Fort Worth-based performing arts organization, performed reading sessions of Angels At My Door—a collection of stories written by local children affected by HIV/AIDS. Tarrant County College Northwest Campus also developed a series of poems and drawings by Tarrant County residents entitled Voices: An Arts Intervention.
According to the U.S. Cultural & Heritage Tourism Marketing Council, cultural tourism accounts for 78% of U.S. travelers—some 118 million tourists —who include arts and heritage in their trips each year. They stay longer and spend 36% more money than non-cultural travelers do, contributing more than $192 billion annually to the U.S. economy. A significant portion of U.S. arts tourism includes opera.
As a cornerstone of tourism in Fort Worth, the Fort Worth Opera Festival draws an impressive amount of opera enthusiasts. During the 2012 Festival, nearly 600 attendees traveled here from outside the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, accounting for 12% of the total audience. The large number of Festival travelers helped boost the Fort Worth hotel industry, racking up 2,100 hotel nights…and of course, opera travelers also spend money in local restaurants and museums. Some Festival attendees traveled from as far away as Washington D.C., New York, Minnesota, California, and Canada. In recent years, opera lovers have even traveled from France and Switzerland.
FWOpera is also a surprisingly significant employer. For the 2012 Festival season alone, FWOpera hired local 274 artists—31 chorus singers, 30 volunteers, and 213 orchestra and crew members. For the company's new production of Three Decembers in the Scott Theatre, more than 20 crew members were present every night to run the show smoothly. Plus, the production was designed and directed by an all-Dallas/Fort Worth creative team.
Supporting Young Artists
FWOpera realizes the need to provide emerging young artists with a platform to grow their career in opera and performing arts besides the Fort Worth Opera Studio. The Opera Guild of Fort Worth's McCammon Voice Competition has launched the careers of many young talents who now appear in major opera houses throughout the world. Since its debut in 1985, the McCammon Voice Competition has grown into one of the country's most significant operatic events of its kind. The 2012 competition saw 118 applicants from the United States, Europe, and Asia. The first prize award includes a cash prize of $10,000 and a starring role with FWOpera—a major coup for a young artist! Three past winners and finalists were featured in the 2012 festival, including Jonathan Beyer and Donovan Singletary in The Marriage of Figaro and Grammy Award nominee Ava Pine in Lysistrata.
Come Join Us
Now you know that there's way more than meets the eye here! Next time you think about Fort Worth Opera, remember all the things we do offstage. From the captivating performances around town to the fun get-togethers at your favorite pub to your child's first opera experience at their school, we work to share the magic of opera year-round. If you haven't yet, join in on the fun and become a part of the Fort Worth Opera family!