Lyric Opera: Nurturing Community through Art
Lyric Opera announced a new kind of role on Tuesday: Ana María Martínez and Eric Owens, both starring in Lyric’s Rusalka, were named community ambassadors. They are charged with bringing a little opera (minus the theater) to different doorsteps in the community. On their first day, however, during a visit to Young Women’s Leadership Charter School on Chicago’s south side, these two ambassadors burned the script on typical in-school performances. First of all, they didn’t sing (though there were a couple video clips). Secondly, the two stars talked about opera only part of the time.
Much of the emphasis of the singers’ visit focused on what could be characterized as life lessons; things they’ve learned through their experience in opera: the importance of using your greatest gifts; hard work; respect for others, respect for one’s self; humility; dealing with rejection; recognizing a harmful relationship; and, yes, finding courage when the support system fails.
Clearly, Lyric Opera’s new ambassadors are delivering a message that goes deeper than listening to music: art can heal a community. The singers struck a somewhat serious tone suggesting they’ve had some experience with today’s youth—teens face scary realities: they are presented with more choices than ever, a lot of them dangerous. Owens spoke about the deep satisfaction of doing “something you love, where everyone is giving their all.” He grinned broadly about the closeness he felt to Rusalka’s cast, saying we benefit from sharing experiences that create a “focused energy” with other people.
Ms. Martínez added, “an opera begins as an idea in someone’s mind.” She urged the girls to find that gift within, and nurture it. She also counseled them to trust a gut feeling, when that “tightness in the stomach is telling you something isn’t right.”
The girls at Young Women’s Leadership Charter School attended La traviata in the fall, and have been studying Rusalka. They were ready to greet Eric Owens and Ana María Martínez with thoughtful questions like, “When the Rusalka character loses her voice, how does a singer stay in the action?” or, “Do you really learn these different languages?” One student asked, “Did your parents support you or did they think that art is a waste of time?”
Lyric Opera’s community ambassadors offered a range of experiences, from adapting to a new director, to the physicality of singing. They spoke about the poignancy of Rusalka‘s story, which actually shows us something about our own humanity. The ambassadors were straightforward with these kids: life is not a fairytale. At the same time Ms. Martínez added, “You have everything you need already;” quoting Joseph Campbell, “Follow your bliss.”
“I can really tell that they’re interested about what they do. They really have a passion for singing, and they also have amazing voices. They have to have really strong voices…I want to look more at the opera actually.”
—Aria Woods, student at Women’s Leadership Charter School
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Rusalka with Ana María Martínez and Eric Owens runs through March 16. WFMT’s opening night broadcast begins on Saturday at 7:15 PM. The community ambassadors program is part of Lyric Unlimited, an initiative of Lyric’s creative consultant Renée Fleming, music director Sir Andrew Davis, and general director Anthony Freud. In past seasons, Ana María Martínez has visited this and other Chicago Public Schools through Lyric’s Vocal Partnership Program. Both Ana María Martínez and Eric Owens are scheduled to return to Chicago in subsequent seasons and continue their role as ambassadors.