Those who wish to sing always find a song.
The Swedish proverb epitomizes how the Nashville Opera has responded since canceling its performances last spring due to the coronavirus.
Virtual education tours and upscaled digital performances are keeping the music alive. And on the horizon is an Opera on Wheels to debut next spring.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve been absolutely determined to find a way to continue to create artists opportunities in a safe, meaningful way,” says Lea Maitlen, engagement director for the 40-year-old organization.
“I mean, without art, what are we?” she asks.
The Opera’s education tour, which serves between 20,000 and 25,000 children and their families annually, was one of the first big challenges to tackle.
“We thought to ourselves, ‘what can we do to still deliver arts-driven content to students, allow our emerging artists to hone their skills, and continue the creation of art at a time it’s so desperately needed?’” Maitlen recalls.
As a result, the Children’s Opera Tour is going fully virtual, with an all-access digital education program around The Three Little Pigs. The Nashville Opera’s emerging artists are being safely filmed on stage for presentations that will debut this school year before elementary school students statewide.
“Kids will be able to access this content wherever they are — sitting in a classroom together watching on an overhead projector, or on their computers at home watching it on YouTube,” Maitlen says. “And then after viewing the film, they will get to participate in a live Zoom Q&A with the performers dressed in costume, which is what they would get to do in person.”
Those aren’t the only students getting exclusive educational experiences courtesy of the Nashville Opera. This winter, another virtual program called Opera Out Loud will be offered to middle school and high schools.
“It’ll be another video recording of our emerging artists, but this time they’ll be staged and costumed while reenacting famous opera scenes,” Maitlen says, “sort of like different mini-operas of scenes appropriate for older students.”
In late September, the company also will present its first-ever digital opera, One Vote Won, to high school students across the state.
“Because we know this is going to be for digital consumption, the quality of camera work has improved,” Maitlen says. “It’s filmed more like a music video.”
Composed by Nashville native Dave Ragland, the multi-angle production celebrates the hard-won battle to make sure every citizen is able to exercise their right to vote — just in time for both an election year and to celebrate the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“Since this opera is all about voter engagement, we’re just hoping to get young people excited to participate in the process, no matter who they vote for,” Maitlen says.
Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools was the first to sign on to share the One Vote Won study guide with every high school teacher across its district. Created by the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University, the resource aligns with state academic standards for U.S. History.
The pandemic-inspired creativity will continue to emerge in 2021. In fact, it may be driving to a place near you.
“We are currently working towards the goal of having a mobile stage connected to an SUV that we can take around the city, pop open, and give a performance outdoors,” Maitlen explains.
Known as Opera on Wheels, the community engagement initiative will reach a range of audiences.
“One example is there’s a lot of assisted living facilities that are unable to receive any visitors due to COVID-19,” Maitlen says. “So we saw a need to bring music to those communities, as well as perhaps even pulling up to the side of a school or town square every once in a while.”
The mobile opera tour is scheduled to launch in conjunction with Nashville Opera’s Rigoletto Noir (April 8-10) and Cinderella (June 11-12).
For more information, visit NashvilleOpera.org or check out past archival performances on the Nashville Opera YouTube page.