Kim Carballo, a voice coach at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, says that in the 1950s and ’60s, a slew of children’s operas were composed to introduce children to the art form.
“Kids used to graduate from sixth grade knowing Carmen and other famous works, but now there’s a different focus on arts education,” Carballo says.
Reimagining Opera for Kids is bringing opera back into the curriculum. The nonprofit organization, founded by Carballo in 2006, puts on 35 to 40 productions each school year with the help of about 70 volunteer composers, musicians, actors, and technicians.
New commissions create works that resonant with children’s lives, and curriculum guides are available for teachers to use in the classroom.
Carballo says creating contemporary pieces allows the organization to structure its season around a specific theme while creating works tailored to two age groups (which overlap a bit): younger students ages 5-13 and older students ages 11-18.
This season, Reimagining Opera for Kids has commissioned two works around the theme of “The Concept of the Other”: The Lunchbox Project for younger students and The World Is One for older students.
The Lunchbox Project is designed to engage students through the combination of music and food. A variety of composers collaborated to create the opera, which looks into the lunchboxes of schoolchildren from around the world, allowing students to experience other cultures through both traditional music and food.
The World Is One is a collaboration between composer Dominick DiOrio, associate professor at the Jacobs School, and Iranian-American writer Khashayar Tonekaboni, clinical assistant professor at the IU School of Optometry. The piece examines the plight of refugees from a perspective accessible to teenagers, asking audiences to think about questions regarding displacement, home, and support of those facing uncertainty.
Through these productions, Reimagining Opera for Kids aims to make opera tangible, Carballo says. “Now, opera isn’t this foreign thing that people with weird voices do,”
The 2018–19 season begins in September. All performances are free. For more information, visit rok.kimcarballo.com.