Experience Opera Thrilled Washington Students with New Musical Experiences

In this look back at 40 years of Humanities Washington’s programs, we look at the grant-funded program Experience Opera, which brought opera to over 40 classrooms around the state.

Seattle Opera's Perry Lorenzo (right) worked with students at Garfield High School as part of the Experience Opera program | Photo: Greg Eastman Photography

Seattle Opera’s Perry Lorenzo (right) worked with students at Garfield High School as part of the Experience Opera program, which operated in schools across Washington state | Photo: Greg Eastman Photography

Humanities Washington is celebrating our 40th anniversary with 40 Years of Washington Stories. Each week on Spark, we’ll offer a snapshot from our past, sharing forty years of stories that have helped shape the humanities in Washington state.

In the very first year of its Experience Opera program, the Seattle Opera Association did the unthinkable and got hundreds of high school kids across Washington state pumped up about works like Il Trovatore and Xerxes. At Granite Falls High School, kids built their own opera sets out of classroom props. At Garfield High School, 400 kids crammed into an auditorium to hear emerging opera singers perform. At The Bush School, students learned to sing the warm-ups to Handel’s Xerxes.

Spearheaded by Seattle Opera’s late education director Perry Lorenzo, Experience Opera began in 1998. Humanities Washington helped fund the program, which put study guides, opera lecturers and performers in over 40 classrooms across Washington state. In addition to the music itself, students studied the culture and politics that helped shape opera.

The program culminated with the attendance of a dress rehearsal. Over 700 tickets to Seattle Opera’s dress rehearsals were made available to the wide variety of students who participated in the program, and kids from Seattle’s wealthiest private schools attended alongside high school students from correctional facilities. The program drew students from as far north as Bellingham, as far south as Olympia and as far east as Wenatchee.

Perry Lorenzo passed away in 2009, but the program he built continues to this day. Current educational offerings from the Seattle Opera can be viewed here.

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