‘Opera Improv Trunk’ introduces children to opera


Pittsburgh Opera presents “Opera Improv Trunk” at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. tonight in Smith Wilkes Hall. Photo courtesy of David Bachman.

Suzi Starheim | Staff Writer

Audience members can find themselves taking an active role in tonight’s Family Entertainment Series performance. This is the Pittsburgh Opera’s “Opera Improv Trunk,” and it allows audience members to take part in making a finished “Opera-on-the-spot” improvisation alongside Pittsburgh Opera teaching artists.

The Pittsburgh Opera teaching artists who will be in the presentation tonight are Amy Stabnau, Bridget Steele, Liliana Piazza, Rob Frankenberry and Mark Trawka.

Each of these artists will offer the audience two arias, which are vocal pieces from operas. The audience will then have the opportunity to vote on which of these arias will go into the final improvisation story. The artists will also offer several story titles, and audience members will choose what story title they will then use to create the improvisation.

Marilyn Egan, director of education for the Pittsburgh Opera, said tonight’s presentations will teach audiences about opera while also making them a part of the improvisation process.

Unlike most performances, Egan said, the “Opera Improv Trunk” will not show up as a finished product for guests to merely sit and watch.

“It’s improvised on the spot,” Egan said. “It’s a cross between Disney street performers, teachers in a school and opera on a stage.”

Because of this, Egan said, the performance is more of a presentation than a planned event.

“The audience members will help to shape what the program is,” Egan said. “So many things are prepared in advance, but this is not one of those performances.”

This is the first time the “Opera Improv Trunk” will be in Chautauqua, and Virginia DiPucci, president of the Chautauqua Opera Guild, said one of the main objectives of today’s presentation is to broaden the opera audience by sparking an interest in opera. DiPucci said this could be very difficult if audience members don’t have an initial understanding of opera.

“People look to opera as a very sophisticated art form and keep away if they’re not very knowledgeable in it,” DiPucci said. “If you want an audience that’s going to be with you for a long time, you have to start from when they are children.”

The other main objective of the presentation is to offer musical enrichment for children.

“We wanted to bring opera to all levels of society and to all ages,” DiPucci said. “This is the opportunity for cross generations to enjoy and learn about opera together. I think that that’s really important.”

DiPucci, whose love of opera began when her mother brought it to her attention as a child, said individuals who are exposed to and educated in opera from a young age tend to stay tied to it throughout their entire lives.

“There’s wonderful setting and wonderful music to opera,” DiPucci said. “You have to show people that, and you show youngsters that, and they get very attached to that.”

Overall, Egan said that making opera available to people who aren’t necessarily familiar with the art form is a major objective of the presentation. To that end, the teaching artists try to incorporate facts about opera into the presentation.

“Opera can be accessible, and it can be fun,” Egan said. “Teaching artists can help people think about opera in new ways.”

The two performances will take place at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. tonight at Smith Wilkes Hall and are sponsored by the Chautauqua Opera Guild.