A little normalcy — a craving under the coronavirus pandemic — will be coming to the Christmas season, thanks to Heartland Opera Theatre.
HOT is bringing Christmas caroling to area homes, offering a bit of holiday tradition in a year when it’s so desperately needed. It will bring some normalcy to the season in a way that is pandemic safe. After all, caroling is, by its very nature, a form of social distancing.
A quartet of professional singers associated with HOT can be scheduled to perform both sacred and secular carols on Thursday, Dec. 17, Friday, Dec. 18, or Saturday, Dec. 19. The singers will provide a 10-minute holiday serenade for $75 or a 20-minute one for $100. The singers will wear face masks and sing from driveways or lawns, offering plenty of social distancing from families that book them.
The caroling will be offered from 5 to 9 p.m. that Thursday and Friday and from 3 to 7 p.m. that Saturday. Specific time slots for each home will be announced closer to those days. The carolers can be booked through the HOT website, www.heartlandoperatheatre.com. The deadline for booking is Sunday, Dec. 13.
The caroling is among events HOT has announced after several months of planning how it could safely provide its coming, 22nd season under a pandemic.
The company had just completed a double-bill of short operas in early March as the pandemic clamped down on America, shuttering opera companies nationwide. HOT cancelled the one remaining performance of its 21st season.
As its board began looking toward the coming season, it began considering events that could be easily achieved under the pandemic, said Emily Larson, board president and interim director since the June retirement of its general director, Michael Gregory.
“It means our season looks different, but we are still bringing professional opera to Southwest Missouri,” said Larson.
In addition to planning the caroling events, it set dates in May for its first live performances under the pandemic. It also developed two virtual performances for area school children. One will be a condensed version of Mozart’s "The Magic Flute," and the other will be performances of Langston Hughes poetry, set to music.
“By focusing on youth engagement through virtual operas, we are able to bring some enrichment into schools during a really weird time when other outlets aren’t able to,” Larson said.
HOT collaborated with Landlocked Opera Inc., a small Kansas City company, to develop a condensed version of "The Magic Flute" that is aimed at third graders. In the virtual performance, the opera will be sung in German with sub-titles but including English dialogue. Its director, Neal Long, and leader singer, Madison King, have performed in both the local and Kansas City companies.
During the virtual performances, which can be accessed the remainder of this month and in December, youngsters will not only learn the story and themes behind "The Magic Flute," but they’ll also gain some general knowledge about opera, said Larson.
“Neal, the director, focuses on anti-bullying to help kids understand the actions within the opera,” she said. “We hope students learn something about how to be kinder to one another and little bit about opera as well.”
To date, St. Mary’s Catholic Elementary School and McKinley Elementary School, both in Joplin, and Central Elementary School in Neosho, have signed up to access the free virtual performance. The first 12 classrooms to sign up for the performance will get a bonus of visiting with performers and asking them questions via the Zoom online conferencing platform. Teachers interested in scheduling a virtual performance may email HOT at email@example.com.
A Musical Celebration of Langston Hughes, also a virtual performance, will be available to area middle and high school schools in February 2021 as part of Black History Month. Its backdrop will be an exhibit of Black fiber artist Sonie Ruffin, featured during January through March in the Main Gallery of Spiva Center for the Arts.
Directed by Lawrence, Kan., artist and performer Allison Lewis, the presentation will use the poetry of Hughes, set to music, to discuss the challenges of justice and equality in the U.S. It, too, can be scheduled by emailing HOT.
HOT’s first live performance of its new season is scheduled for May 21, 2021, in Joplin and May 22, 2021, in Carthage. It will bring together some of HOT’s favorite singers to perform a variety of opera’s “greatest hits.”
Venues that can meet coronavirus precautionary measures will be sought, dependent upon the status of the pandemic at the time, said Larson.
“We have tiered plans depending on the safety needs at the time, but we believe an outdoor, socially distanced venue would be a way to do this safely,” said Larson. “Opera companies across the country are finding creative ways to host concerts like this, but we are flexible in achieving this and could consider virtual if need be. The safety of our community and our singers is the most important thing.”
Like all our area arts organizations, HOT has had to use forethought and creativity to keep moving forward and to stay connected with patrons during the pandemic. It has never been up against these particular hurdles, and if there was ever a time when it needs our support it is now. Schedule a caroling session and, if you’re a schoolteacher, take advantage of the virtual programming being offered.