Why Do You Do Opera?

A Conversation with Kira Van Niel and Ty Rodgers

As the the internationally recognized Opera Theatre of Saint Louis kicks off its 42nd season on May 20 at the Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of Webster University, we caught up with two rising young professionals on their enjoyment of opera. Kiera Van Niel is a project engineer at Boeing and Ty Rodgers is president of the National Association of Black Accounts (NABA) – St. Louis Chapter. Both believe opera is for everyone.
1. How did you get involved with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis?
KVN: While presiding over the Urban League Young Professionals of Metropolitan St. Louis, I was invited to the diversity and inclusion team around Fall 2012/Spring 2013. The team was in the beginning stages of event planning for the world premiere of Terrance Blanchard’s “Champion” and wanted support with their community engagement plan. I heard the vision and signed on to help.
TR: I got involved by attending an Opera Tasting. I was impressed by the event and asked how I could get more involved. A colleague, Kira Van Niel, then introduced me to Joe Gfaller, Director of Marketing and Public Relations at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. He invited me become a member of the Young Friends of OTSL. I took him up on the offer and have been a member of the Young Friends group for a little over a year.
2. What did you think of opera before your OTSL experience? What do you think of it now? 
KVN: I guess I was always pretty fond of opera as it was a musical genre my father enjoyed. My father took us (my brother and I) to a few Broadway and off-Broadway productions when we were younger. He is a fan of opera, very specifically, the classic “Madame Butterfly” by Giacomo Puccini. Plenty of our Saturday afternoons were filled with Maria Callas’ rendition of “Madame Butterfly” blaring from the stereo. And who DOESN’T love the part in “Shawshank Redemption” where Andy Dufresne locks himself in the Warden’s office and plays “The Marriage of Figaro” over the PA system? Those voices – Magical! Oh! And I’m still fond of opera after my experience with OTSL.
TR: I was under the impression that the opera was for the more affluent members of society. Movies helped to shape that opinion. After experiencing Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, I see that it brings together people from all walks of life. It can be rather affordable. It is a great way to grow an appreciation for the art form.
3. In your opinion, what’s the biggest misconception about opera?
KVN: That’s it’s only performed in Latin based or German languages, it’s reserved for privileged white men and women, or that it’s a formal occasion that requires formal attire.
TR: I think people may believe the opera is for the wealthy and older population. That the opera is expensive and you may not have any thing in common with the wealthier and older population.
4. What do you love about opera, and specially Opera Theatre of Saint Louis?
KVN: I love OTSL’s commitment to hosting diverse audiences such as millennial, LGBTQIA+, and the economically challenged. Additionally, their commitment to bringing performances that are culturally relatable (and in English) demonstrates their goal of connecting the art to the people and not the other way around.
TR: I enjoy the music, the costumes, the opportunity to fellowship with others that enjoy and love the opera. Opera Theatre of Saint Louis allows for me to enjoy all of those things in a very comfortable and relaxed environment.  The opera members that I have conversed with are very welcoming and willing to share their knowledge and perspectives on the opera for which I am so appreciative.  It has helped me to grow a stronger appreciation for the opera and OTSL.
5. Who do you take with you to the opera? Or who do you meet out when you go to the opera?
KVN: Everyone! Friends, mentees (we attend the teen matinees) and my significant other. Young Friends nights are the best date nights, affordable and fun! While attending an OTSL event, I run into other young professionals, coworkers, representatives from various community boards and organizations. Lots of great people!
TR: I bring friends and family members to the opera with me. It is truly for all to adore.
6. What do you wear when you go?
KVN: You know, depends on my mood that day. 🙂 I’ve worn a dress and sandals as well as trousers and heels. Attire is casual but patrons are invited to dress to their comfort.
TR: I have worn a suit, suit jacket and slacks with a button down, a shirt and jeans. You may wear whatever you deem fit. If you attend/experience Opera Theatre of Saint Louis this season, you will see for yourself.
7. Why should people check out the 2017 Festival? What will they take away from the experience?
KVN: I can’t speak enough about OTSL’s commitment to diverse audiences and patrons. Plus, they are an incredibly friendly team who make you feel like you are a part of the family. Lastly, seeing that “Madame Butterfly” is one of the featured productions, I’m looking forward to sharing this fond memory with people near and dear to me. Don’t miss out!
TR: Opera Theatre puts its best foot forward to bring some of the most wonderful operas to the St. Louis area. There is always something fun taking place to help attendees have the best experience possible. Anyone that attends the 2017 Festival will see just how fun the opera can be. Assumptions that one may have will be erased. They shall see that the opera is truly for everyone.
WHO: Opera Theatre of Saint Louis
WHAT: 2017 Festival Season — Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, a new performing version of Ricky Ian Gordon’s The Grapes of Wrath, the American Premiere of Philip Glass’s The Trial, and Mozart’s Titus (La clemenza di Tito).
WHEN: May 20 – June 25, 2017
WHERE: Virginia Jackson Browning Theatre at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the campus of Webster University
TICKETS: Start at $25. www.ExperienceOpera.org. (314) 961-0644.
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