June 29, 2021

Making their mark

Teens reflect on their time in Lyric's Youth Opera Council

Each year, Lyric selects a group of Chicagoland students representing a broad range of backgrounds to make up the Youth Opera Council (YOC). These curious and artistically inclined teens meet biweekly to discuss important topics relating to Lyric, the opera world, and the arts in Chicago. "I loved being able to talk to people my own age about art and current issues within our field," said council member Gwendolen Adelman. "It was very interesting to hear from people in the opera community and ask them questions about what they do and how they believe we can change opera for the better."

Youth Opera Council members met with bass-baritone Ryan Mckinny (fourth from left), star of Lyric's 2019/20 productions of Dead Man Walking and Don Giovanni.

The goal of this group is to grow interest and participation in the arts among high school students and foster the next generation of arts leaders and patrons through behind-the-scenes exploration and youth-focused events. Council members get exclusive access to Lyric artists, technicians, and staff to learn the ins and outs of the opera industry. "Youth Opera Council has been an amazing experience for me, to learn," said council member Amanda Baity. "I am so grateful for the opportunity I was given to work with so many talented artists, and to meet so many incredible composers, directors, actors, and singers. This council has truly opened my eyes to what it takes to make an opera."

While Lyric's 2020/21 Season was different than most, the Youth Opera Council not only continued to meet, but grew exponentially. Throughout the year, the council gathered virtually to discuss everything from the future of the arts to what digital programming they enjoyed most. For some council members, like Julia Szostak, the biweekly meetings were a constant in unpredictable times. "Even with the immense difficulties this past year has brought us, the Youth Opera Council was always the highlight of my day," said Szostak. "Seeing people laugh and smile, though virtually, was such a welcome surprise. I loved meeting new people and talking about one of my favorite things in the world, opera."

The Youth Opera Council gathered via Zoom in January 2021.

In 2020, Lyric was able to open up membership to students outside the Chicago area due to the virtual nature of the program. "I had so much fun meeting a group of people who share the same interest in music that I have," said council member Hayes Foster. "I loved getting into deep conversations about music with people who share the same passion that I have for it and hearing their views and what they have to say. It was so much fun to hear the stories of some of the best of the best, and to hear their views on the pandemic and how our generation is affecting the future of classical music."

Returning council members often shared their favorite memories of performances and in-person activities with new members, stoking everyone's excitement for a return to in-person meetings and events. For Grace Maramba, being part of the Youth Opera Council was truly life changing. "If I had never been a part of the council, my life would be so different. I am so grateful for the amazing opportunities to speak to professionals at Lyric and to learn about their experiences and contributions to opera," said Maramba. "I also loved seeing the operas with the council pre-COVID. Being surrounded by other people my age who enjoyed opera and the arts felt so good, and I loved hearing their thoughts and opinions in our discussions. The Youth Opera Council has changed my life and showed me the amazing music and opera communities."

Youth Opera Council members at the 2019 concert, Stars of Lyric Opera in Millennium Park.

If you poll an average Lyric audience, you may be surprised at how (and when) patrons first discovered their love of opera. While many members join the council because they have an interest in the art form, no previous knowledge or experience is required. The only prerequisite is that teens come in with an open mind. For council member Aine Hynes, joining the Youth Opera Council was a great way to learn about Lyric and opera in general. She said, "I'm not very well versed in opera, so it was cool to learn about it. It was amazing to meet all these great people, and everything was so interesting!"

These passionate teens are the future of opera and we at Lyric know the future is bright. "Something that I appreciated about the Youth Opera Council was that I was able to talk to different people around my age that shared a similar passion and interest in the arts," said council member Kesley Frazier. "Everyone was able to voice their own opinions when discussing different topics such as expanding diversity within opera, making opera more accessible to everyone, getting more people our age interested in opera, and more."

Youth Opera Council members were joined by family and friends for a conversation with Don Giovanni star Ben Bliss during the council's annual event, A Night at the Opera (2019).

If you or someone you know is interested in joining the Youth Opera Council, click here to learn more and submit your application for the 2021/22 Youth Opera Council by September 13, 2021.

Header photo: Youth Opera Council members enjoyed Mozart's Don Giovanni at their 2019 event, A Night at the Opera. Credit: Kyle Flubacker

Photos: Lyric Opera of Chicago, Kyle Flubacker