The Toledo Opera is bringing a unique experience into a select few preschools within the Toledo Public Schools Head Start program. An Opera Is A Story is an educational introduction to opera for students who may not have had any prior exposure to the musical genre.
Teaching artist Christina Farrell brought the program, which she created, to Toledo in 2014. She’s since introduced local preschoolers to age-appropriate adaptations of “Carmen,” “Hansel and Gretel,” and “Porgy and Bess.” This year, she brings the students the story of Gioachino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” with her adaptation called “Figaro! Figaro!” Farrell created the content and concepts and aligned the lessons with Ohio’s Early Learning and Development Standards, which ensure that school curriculums meet educational objectives, according to the Toledo Opera.
Farrell is a trained musician and educator with a bachelor’s degree in Vocal Performance and a master’s in Educational Theater. She’s been a Master Teacher at the Wolf Trap Institute of Early Learning Through the Arts since 2011.
Let the music play
Loviah Aldinger, Associate Director at The Toledo Opera, said the program is a great way to introduce opera at a young age and get children actively involved in learning about music.
“A lot of places have enrichment programs,” Aldinger said. “This is more than that.”
The program helps students learn storytelling skills, listening skills and problem-solving abilities, Aldinger said. According to the Wolf Trap Institute website, the arts also help young children learn critical skills such as creativity, collaboration, math, language arts, and imagination.
Farrell uses music, props, instruments, stick puppets and other items to set the scenes of the story. She uses repurposed pizza boxes as miniature stages to help tell her stories. The outside of the box can serve as one location from the story, and the inside can feature a place from another scene, Aldinger said. Students receive CDs of the music to listen to at home.
“It’s not too elaborate,” Aldinger said. “There is a lot of play and pretend. It is very age appropriate.”
The story will be slowly revealed over several sessions during the two-week residency. Classes participate in half-hour workshops on alternating days over the course of two weeks. Toledo Opera said the students sing, use creative movement, explore musical instruments, and learn how costumes can help imagination. Professional guest artists will join the children for their fourth session and perform pieces from the opera at the school.
This year’s lineup
This year, eight classes will participate in An Opera Is A Story, which begins January 22. The residency will take place in Toledo Public Schools’ Head Start programs at Leverette Elementary School, East Toledo Family Center, and Toledo Day Nursery’s Mosaic location.
The program is a unique opportunity that is not taking place in a lot of schools throughout the nation, Aldinger said. The Toledo Opera is always seeking funding to continue the residency. She said there will be researchers from Bowling Green State University present this year to evaluate the program to show donors the educational impact An Opera Is A Story can provide.