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Around The Arts

October 30, 2010

Judge opera on experiences not on uninformed perception


That little five-letter word has the power to intimidate the bravest men and women. I bet I even lost readers after they read the first word of this article. But why? What about opera is so daunting?

We've all heard people say opera is boring, pretentious and stodgy. And, full disclosure, I was one of those people at one time. I couldn't have been more wrong. Murder, suicide, love, lust, revenge, passion, tragedy, comedy and more in one gripping package _ this is not the stereotypical fat lady singing in a Viking helmet that pops into so many minds.

Opera's biggest obstacle to mainstream acceptance may be accessibility. Typically only found in large urban centers, it can be nearly impossible to experience in rural areas. In an effort to expose the art form to a wider audience, OPERA America, the national service organization for opera, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, has organized National Opera Week, which started Friday and will run through Sunday, Nov. 7.

National Opera Week features events hosted by nearly 100 opera companies across the country, including Tri-Cities Opera in Binghamton, Lake George Opera at Saratoga, Syracuse Opera and Glimmerglass.

Glimmerglass, with cooperation from The Smithy-Pioneer Gallery in Cooperstown, is presenting OPERA-tion Arts, an education initiative focused on introducing the art form to children. Over the past few weeks Brittany Lesavoy, this column's co-author, and I visited second-grade classes at four elementary schools to offer a multi-media presentation outlining opera and all it involves.

After the presentation, we gave the students pieces of cardstock on which to illustrate their impressions of opera. For most students it was difficult to pick just one thing to draw, because their young minds were full of creative energy.

Pictures vary from behind-the-scenes _ a person operating the lights, building scenery, or the conductor and orchestra _ to audience members and scenes from operas.

It was so fulfilling to work with these students and watch them develop their understanding of opera.

Each student's masterpiece is currently hanging in The Smithy-Pioneer Gallery. Visit for the special OPERA-tion Arts gallery hours.

To commemorate the week, Glimmerglass and The Smithy will host a free reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, and at 7 p.m., 2010 Glimmerglass Young Artist J'nai Bridges will offer a vocal performance previewing Glimmerglass's 2011 production of "Carmen."

Anything _ art, sports, even travel _ can be off-putting until you understand its intricacies. The only way to truly appreciate something is to experience it.

That could mean watching football until you decipher what a fourth down is and why it's so nerve-racking, researching a vacation destination until you're on a first-name basis with everyone at the travel bureau, taking a chance on opera or, perhaps, easing into the performing arts by attending a musical.

And, maybe, when it's all said and done, and you've really given something an unbiased try, you truly don't like it.

At least you've discovered it for yourself and didn't assume what your reaction would be based on stereotypes and speculation.

So, join us on Friday for some stimulating visual art and a free operatic performance.

If you're one of the unconverted you may be pleasantly surprised.

Visit or follow #operaweek on Twitter for additional information on National Opera Week.

June Dzialo is a member of ArtsOtsego, the alliance of Otsego County arts organizations, and marketing and public relations manager for Glimmerglass Opera. Column ideas and questions may be sent to 'Around The Arts' columns can be found at

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