Summertime in Sarasota is the off-season for the majority of the hundreds of arts organizations in Sarasota County. But even though there might not be much artistic programming, the staff and employees of some of Sarasota's largest arts groups are keeping busy with summer camps, seminars and lessons for the hundreds of arts hungry students out from school on summer vacation.
One such organization that is overflowing with passionate and energetic elementary, middle and high school-aged students is the Sarasota Opera. Since 1984, the Sarasota Youth Opera has been an outlet for area students to flex or discover their love of opera for the very first time. This year's camp's camper slots are completely full but they made room to allow an arts journalist to get a taste of opera and performance 101. From morning singing, acting, stage makeup to learning how to create one's own opera, the Youth Opera Summer Camp is a full-body and mind experience.
I was invited to spend the morning with the campers at the Sarasota Opera House. From arriving in the car pool lane at 8:30 a.m. and signing in and receiving my name tag and a complimentary blue opera camp t-shirt, I traveled back and forth in the labyrinthine back stage hallways of the opera house with various groups of students of various ages and skill level. The groups were named after legendary opera composers such as Mozart, Beethoven, Puccini and Sarasota's favorite Italian songsmith: Verdi.
My low-tenor register stuck out among the high and excited voices of the children. And tried to keep up with the budding operavores by sight reading the Italian and English songs that they rehearsed in hour-long classes with maestro Jesse Martins. Then afterwards we ventured to a history and scene design lessons courtesy of regular opera stage manager Francesca MacBeth. We watched archive footage of the Metropolitan Opera's 1989 production of Verdi's "Aida," which the Sarasota Opera will be performing later this season. Acting and charades were next on the course. After a warm up game of charades, we split up into groups to perform an original scene based on one character. I had the privilege of playing the role of "father" to two young campers as a teacher assistant played a witch who murdered me with magic as I said goodbye to my theatrical children. Though none of us won the Oscar, we did our operatic best.
Next up was makeup. Needless to say I've never used makeup that often in my life but the eight to 10-year-old students, male and female, took to it like they were seasoned opera pros. After they washed the makeup from their faces (most kept theirs on), the class ventured down to director of artistic administration Greg Trupiano's classroom to brainstorm our own ideas for an opera. Operas filled with food, love, dancers and princesses were all suggested. And by the time that I left the opera around the same time the younger students did around noon, I walked away with an experience I won't soon forget.
I'll be humming Italian for the rest of the summer.