Sandra Piques Eddy as Rosina in Vancouver Opera's The Barber of Seville.

‘This ain’t your grandma’s opera’

New high school Opera & Performance Academy slated to start in Delta School District this fall.

It has “opera” in the title, but Paige Hansen doesn’t want that to scare teens away from a new high school arts program in the Delta School District.

The new Opera & Performance Academy is scheduled to launch in September, offering students in Grades 8 to 12 the chance to get expert instruction and behind-the-scenes opportunities with a professional arts company – Vancouver Opera.

The academy will offer voice lessons, acting, score writing and play building to participants, who will be transported from their high school to the specialized program at Delta Secondary every other school day (the equivalent of two electives).

Hansen is district vice-principal of academy and choice programs in Delta and while she knows opera evokes stereotypical images of performers with horned headgear singing in foreign languages, she hopes potential participants can get past that.

“This ain’t your grandma’s opera,” she laughs.

“The truth is, the teenage voice really isn’t ready for opera and certainly the Vancouver Opera understands that. But the grand storytelling that opera does really fits with teenagers.”

Hansen points to Shane Koyczan’s groundbreaking opera Stickboy – a contemporary story about bullying that’s paired with video and animation – that’s currently touring B.C.

At left: Mannequins behind the scenes in Vancouver Opera’s Costume Shop. (VSO photo.)

“I know it’s an uphill battle but I think… this is something that, once kids get in there and expand their understanding of what it is, it’s something they really are going to jive with,” Hansen says. “I’m trying to explain to kids that if you love to act, if you love to sing, opera is musical theatre’s European cousin.”

The school venture, in partnership with Vancouver Opera, is a first, she adds, noting there’s nothing like it in North America.

Over the course of the year, the program will also have students come together to write their own opera, with content that is relevant to them, and present it at Vancouver Opera’s festival in spring 2017.

“They’ll take a show from first reading to opening night, basically,” says Hansen.

They’ll also get to see all of Vancouver Opera’s productions.

While there are several specialized academy programs in the Delta School District, most are sports-oriented, except for film acting and production academies.

Up to about 30 teens will be accepted to the opera academy and Hansen is confident students will discover there’s more to the art form than they might think.

She’s seen it with the film academies, where kids realize they have a love for storytelling that goes beyond acting and extends into learning about editing and sound and photography.

“When we have access to the Vancouver Opera, we’re not just talking about singers, but we’re also talking about costume designers and lighting designers and set designers and marketing – everything that goes on with putting on a professional production.”

An open house about all the academy programs offered in the Delta School District will take place Saturday, Jan. 30 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Burnsview Secondary (7658 112 St.).

An information session specifically about the Opera & Performance Academy is scheduled for Feb. 3, 7-8:30 p.m. at Delta Secondary (4615 51 St., Ladner).

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