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These Kansas City groups are making opera more exciting — even if you think you don’t like opera

 Four operatic singers perform in front of a colorful background with shelves of musical instruments. Two of the performers are sitting toward the left side of the image and looking at each other, while the other two are standing back to back to the right of them. They are performing "Sketchbook for Ollie," a traveling educational opera that Lyric Opera sends to interested elementary schools. Three audience members sit facing the performers in the bottom of the frame, with only the backs of their heads and shoulders visible. The image is mostly blue, teal, yellow, orange, and purple.
Andrew Schwartz
Lyric Opera of Kansas City
Actors with Lyric Opera of Kansas City perform the educational traveling opera "Sketchbook for Ollie."

Whether you've been listening to opera for years or have never heard of 'The Marriage of Figaro,' here's your guide to the Kansas City organizations reinventing and sharing opera in creative ways.

To many, opera has a reputation for being a difficult art form to get into. The stories are often set in the past, the music is frequently in other languages and sung in a style that is unfamiliar to modern ears, and performances can last for upwards of three hours.

Local groups like the Kansas City Festival Opera and the Opus 76 string quartet are attempting to remove some of these barriers to accessing opera, while showcasing its ability to be fun and relevant. Other organizations introduce opera to audiences in a more traditional way. Lyric Opera of Kansas City and its offshoot program Orpheus KC create events around lavish full-scale productions that invite audiences to engage critically with opera as an art form.

Learn more about these groups and how Kansas City is full of opera-tunities that showcase the beauty of opera while challenging its stuffy, archaic reputation.

Kansas City Festival Opera

Lauren Auge, a classical soprano, sits on a stage and reaches toward the audience while singing. Behind her are blue and light wood chairs on risers and a piano covered in cloth. She is rehearsing for the Kansas City Festival Opera's inaugural performance of "Il Trovatore."
Andy Newbegin
Kansas City Festival Opera
Lauren Auge rehearses for Kansas City Festival Opera's inaugural performance of "Il Trovatore."

Lauren Auge wanted to be a part of something that highlighted local artistry and gave the Kansas City community a more accessible way to experience opera. She reached out to local singers and artisans to create the Kansas City Festival Opera, a group dedicated to providing high quality operatic performances using primarily local talent. The company holds its inaugural performances of Verdi's “Il Trovatore” on June 23 and June 25.

The Kansas City Festival Opera intends to perform during the summer, when other companies go dormant for their off season. The company's production of “Il Trovatore” is free to the public and will be performed by a small cast with accompanying piano. Light costuming and only a few props keep the performances affordable and emphasize the acting and vocal chops of the performers.

Auge considers “Il Trovatore” to be a good first opera for newcomers because it encompasses the versatility of opera while sticking to standard story tropes.

"It's honest emotions but with high drama and with high camp. Opera, I think, in this day and age is often very campy. And it should be. I think that's part of the enjoyable thing about it," Auge said.

The group is currently deliberating on two operas for the 2024 season.

Opus 76

Musicians perform in the Opus 76 string quartet. Violinist Zsolt Eder sits on the far left, next to violinist Keith Stanfield, violist Ashley Stanfield, and cellist Daniel Ketter on the far right. The venue they are in is made of very light wood with four columns.
Gary Rohman
Opus 76
The Opus 76 quartet gives their Carnegie Hall debut in March 2023.

The Opus 76 string quartet has been bringing the greatest hits of classical music to Kansas City through short, intimate concerts for the last year and a half. This September, they are expanding their repertoire to include the highlights of two of Mozart's operas: “The Marriage of Figaro” and “Don Giovanni.”

The quartet will be joined by local opera singers for the hour long performances taking place at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on the evenings of September 27 and 28.

"What I'm trying to do is just cherry-pick moments from the opera that we can relate to emotionally through our daily lives that don't necessarily follow the chronology of the opera," said Keith Stanfield, Opus 76 violinist and host of this concert series.

Stanfield's goal with any performance is to entertain the audience sitting in front of him, which is part of the reason why the quartet chose to begin their foray into opera with Mozart.

"His whole compositional output, to me, was based around interpersonal connection. And he combined that with amazing technical knowledge," Stanfield said.

Newcomers to opera can hear the best of Mozart's operatic compositions with tickets starting at $30. The intimate environment of the concert space allows audience members to connect with their loved ones through the shared experience of music.

Lyric Opera of Kansas City

 Five actresses for the Lyric Opera of Kansas City perform a scene from the November 2022 production of La Traviata. The central character, Flora, is spotlighted looking off into the distance while presenting her hand to a sitting woman on the left. Gathered behind them are three more women. All of the performers are wearing Victorian-style costumes in different shades of burgundy and red.
Don Ipock
Lyric Opera of Kansas City
Actors at the Kansas City Lyric Opera perform a scene from "La Traviata" in its November 2022 production.

Lyric Opera of Kansas City, founded in 1958, is the area's largest and oldest opera company. The organization brings the traditional opera experience to life through elaborate costumes, sets, and world-class musicians. Audiences can expect to experience the full scope of professional opera through its productions.

This September, the 2023-2024 season kicks off with Pietro Mascagni's “Cavalleria rusticana” and Ruggero Leoncavallo's “Pagliacci.”

Beyond just staging performances, Lyric Opera offers a variety of outreach programs targeted at both children and adults. Third to fifth grade students can learn about music and emotional intelligence through the touring performance “Sketchbook for Ollie.” Adults have access to educational lectures and conversations via the programs Opera Dives Deep and Pre-Opera Talks. Through these programs, Lyric Opera attempts to connect Kansas Citians of all ages with opera both emotionally and intellectually.

Orpheus KC

A group of six people stand in an arced line to the left of a table with a candelabra and drinks. They are in front of an orange crepe paper tunnel with a bull's head on the top middle of the arch. Below the tunnel is a small labyrinth made out of red tape or paper. The event they are attending is the Orpheus Affair held by Orpheus KC.
Noel Muse
Orpheus KC
Members of Orpheus KC talk to each other at the 2023 Orpheus Affair.

Orpheus KC is an organization affiliated with Lyric Opera that offers opportunities for Kansas Citians to get involved with opera in their community. Though it was initially meant to be a chance for young professionals to experience opera, it has since expanded to include members of all ages.

The organization hosts a variety of communal events including happy hours, trips, and the annual Orpheus Affair, an evening celebration of opera. Orpheus KC offers different tiers of membership, beginning with $20 seasonal memberships and $40 annual memberships.

Orpheus KC is an avenue through which newcomers to opera can interact communally with the art form while attending performances and educational events.

Whether going to a live performance or listening on-air, Kansas City offers many ways to experience opera.

Want to dip your toes into opera? Enjoy our Spotify playlist that weaves together popular arias with instrumental works throughout history.

Kiana Fernandes is an intern for Classical KC.