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Soaring outreach

Opera program performs for more than 100,000 school children in 17 years

By Chelsi Walsh

A production in a St. John’s high school gymnasium almost two decades ago launched what has become an extraordinary musical and cultural experience for more than 100,000 children across Atlantic Canada.

Memorial University’s Opera Roadshow celebrates its 17th season this spring with its version of Engelbert Humperdink’s Hansel and Gretel.

Long-term arts audiences

Created by the School of Music’s Dr. Caroline Schiller, Memorial’s Opera Roadshow was established to introduce a “tangible sensation of vibration” that allows children from kindergarten to Grade 6 to understand the power of music and to create long-term audience members of the arts.

A recent recipient of the President’s Award for Exceptional Community Service, Dr. Schiller is largely responsible for shaping operatic outreach throughout Newfoundland and Labrador and allowing the program the flourish.

Dr. Caroline Schiller
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Another goal of the Opera Roadshow is to choose productions with themes of cultural pertinence.

In the past, subjects have included women’s rights, climate change, ocean ecology and bullying. This year, the production will explore the concept of want versus need and homelessness in Canada’s youth.

A few highlights from the Opera Roadshow’s past decade are more than 25,000 kilometres travelled, more than 100 communities and performed for more than 100,000 children throughout Atlantic Canada; first operatic group to travel to schools in Labrador; first to commission a children’s opera based on the history of Newfoundland and Labrador (Vinland Traveller, composed by Dean Burry); and commissioned the first French opera set in Newfoundland and Labrador (Le Nez de la Sorcière, composed by Dean Burry with lyrics by Melanie Léger).

Rebekah Lee sings the role of The Bottle in the Opera Roadshow production, Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Not only have the children of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Atlantic provinces benefited from this cultural sensation, the Memorial University music students who tour each year learn the craft inside and out.

Vocalists learn set design, costume repair, business management, promotion, budgeting and team collaboration while maintaining their voices while on the road.

It is the ultimate immersive experience. Numerous School of Music alumni – such as David Keller-Flight and Suzanne Rigden – have built their opera foundations with Opera Roadshow by continuing into graduate music programs and operatic careers worldwide.

Opera Roadshow performs Hansel and Gretel in the D.F. Cook Recital Hall, School of Music, St. John’s campus, from April 3-4, before heading out on a provincial tour. Learn more online.

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