A! Magazine for the Arts

Bill Campbell is hoping to get more students interested in opera through his new Opera in Schools program. (Photo by Andre Teague/Bristol Herald Courier)

Bill Campbell is hoping to get more students interested in opera through his new Opera in Schools program. (Photo by Andre Teague/Bristol Herald Courier)

Opera in Schools

November 3, 2008

**This story was published Nov. 2, 2008 in the Bristol Herald Courier.**

ABINGDON, Va. ? Step inside the home and life of Bill Campbell. Incredibly moving music from "The Damnation of Faust" by Hector Berlioz resounds within Campbell's living room. No television. Instead, thousands of opera tapes, CDs, LPs and 78s dominate his home. To paraphrase English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, opera, opera everywhere with neither rock nor roll in sight.

Now, the retired schoolteacher and lifelong opera aficionado is on a mission to introduce local students to the wonders of opera. Enter Campbell's newly minted and multi-tiered Opera in Schools program. It started kind of simply.

"I was concerned that so few students were attending last year's performances [of live satellite transmissions from New York's Metropolitan Opera to Bristol, Va's Tinseltown]," Campbell said. "I decided that part of the problem was the $22 charge for a ticket."

So in May of this year, he contacted Peter Gelb, manager of the Met, and suggested a reduction in ticket prices for its satellite transmissions. An assistant to Gelb related to Campbell that the Met is aware of a need to inject youth into the audience. So they floated an opportunity. "I was told that the telecasts would be offered free to school sites that met certain requirements," Campbell said.

Campbell got to work. He partnered with the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon, Va., which has a theater equipped for digital screenings and met the requirements put forth by the Met. "They had 18 schools nationwide last year," he said.

However, Campbell missed the Met's deadline cut. Undeterred, Campbell turned to seeking donations that could defray $20 of the $22 ticket price for interested students. So far, he's received some donations but is hoping for more.

"So far, students from King College, E.B. Stanley Middle School in Abingdon, Virginia High School in Bristol and Virginia Highlands Community College in Abingdon have attended performances," Campbell said.

Such participation sort of sparked another idea. "When I started offering tickets to students, it soon became evident that an educational program needed to be added," he said.

Unlike, for example, a child who attends a Batman movie and has most likely read a Batman comic book and thus knows something of that which they are seeing, opera simply isn't close to being in the mainstream.

"The students need to be familiar with the story and music of the opera that they are to attend," Campbell said.
So, Campbell birthed his Opera in Schools program.

Currently, he has directed his attention to school systems in Bristol and Washington County, Va. via presentations and such to students.

He said that he intends to widen the scope of his program to include more surrounding school systems.

Like the music that he loves so dearly, Campbell's goals relative to Opera in Schools seem as boundless as the universe. He dreams big and hopes big. Soon, his efforts may pay off big-time.

"In January, I plan to apply to become part of the Metropolitan Opera Education Program for next year," he said. "If our area is accepted into the program, not only will students receive free tickets, but teachers will also receive free teaching materials."

Meanwhile, Campbell said that he has been seeking corporate and individual donations to help fund what could be called the "send a kid to the opera" wing of his program.

"I ask for $100, which would allow for five students to attend the opera," he said.

But why the fuss, some may wonder. "They need to be well-rounded," Campbell said. "Opera enriches us."

That may seem an easy sell. But opera isn't.

Despite having blanketed media outlets throughout the area, Campbell said there are still many people who do not realize that opera exists at all in the Mountain Empire. Frustrating, he said.

But then there are the times when all seems to congeal as desired.

"The thing that impressed me most at [the Oct. 11 broadcast of the opera] "Salome" was seeing that a man and wife had their 13-year-old daughter with them," he said. "Those parents are making sure their child is going to be culturally well-rounded."

Thereby, bloomed a magnificent rose from the mire. "It tells me there is hope," Campbell said.


To donate to Opera in Schools, mail donations to: Opera Fund, c/o Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center, P.O. Box 1987, Abingdon, VA 24212. Note: Please put "Opera Fund" in the memo section of your check.

'Doctor Atomic' Opera to air Nov. 8 & 19

Opera essentially equates to drama overload.

J. Robert Oppenheimer certainly applies as fodder for an opera. The renowned nuclear physicist is the subject of "Doctor Atomic," an opera scheduled to air via satellite from the Metropolitan Opera in New York City on Nov. 8 and then again on Nov. 19 at Cinemark's Tinseltown in Bristol, Va.

"It is a contemporary opera," said Charlie Siedenburg, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Opera. "It's sung in English, whereas most operas are sung in a foreign language."

English or not, "Doctor Atomic" drips with relevancy and nail-biting drama. Oppenheimer led a team of scientists in the United States beginning in about 1943. As Adolf Hitler's Germany was developing nuclear technologies, Oppenheimer and company raced to beat them. The world hung in the balance.

"He opened up the atomic age," said Bill Campbell, a lifelong devotee of the opera. "But he wondered what the after-effects would be."

Perhaps because of effects rendered during the nuclear era, folks at the Met hope that "Doctor Atomic" will appeal to an interested and younger audience.

"The first visual you see [in the performance] is the periodic table," Siedenburg said. "Anybody who has been through junior high school will remember that."

And perhaps younger folks will remember "Doctor Atomic," and interest in the opera will spike.

"The Met needs to build a younger audience," Campbell said.

Metropolitan Opera productions are airing via satellite at Cinemark's Tinseltown in Bristol, Va.

The following live performances are at 1 p.m.:
? Nov. 8: "Dr. Atomic" (encore Nov. 19 at 7 p.m.)
? Nov. 22: Berlioz: "La Damnation de Faust" with Susan Graham, Marcello Giordani and John Relyea.
? Feb. 7: Donizetti: "Lucia di Lammermoor" with Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon.
? March 7: Puccini: "Madama Butterfly" with Cristina Gallardo-Domas and Marcello Giordani.
? March 21: Bellini: "La Sonnambula" with Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez.
? May 9: Rossini: "La Cenerentola" with Elina Garanca and Lawrence Brownlee.

Tickets are $15 for ages 11 and under, $22 for ages 12-64 and $20 for ages 65 and older. Call (276) 669-0588.