By Iride Aparicio

SAN FRANCISCO, CA -- For those people who ever wondered: What is Opera? Why is Opera considered different from other musical genres?  Who started it?  When? Who composes its music? What makes its music different? How does Opera tell stories without using any dialogue? What is an Opera's Aria?  and other similar questions about the art, "Opera Aficionado" will be the program they need to watch to get their answers.

Created by the San Francisco Opera during the shutdown, "Opera Aficionado" is a unique, educational 75 minutes ZOOM popular program of conversations given by musicologists, Opera's composers, Educators and scholars familiar with the Art, in which they share their knowledge with the audience, converse with them via ZOOM and answer their questions, from their studio, to viewers' own homes.

For those who may think that learning something about Opera is "not for them," watching one program of "Opera Aficionado," will prove them wrong. As presented in the program, Opera is for anyone. For anybody who likes music and is interested on a fascinated story told in songs. And listening to many of those songs (called Arias) in the different segments of "Opera Aficionado", being interpreted in the instruments of the worlds' best orchestras, and sang by the world's most famous Opera singers is not only a unique experience but an opportunity to the program's viewers  to get a better understanding of the Art.

But that is not all what the program offers. Its selected speakers, may discuss the Librettists, (The name given to the writers of the stories represented in the operas) or talk about the librettos, ( The opera's scripts, many of which originated  from old novels), give information about the Operas' s composers, data about their music, in other words, share their broad knowledge about Opera, that for years was shared only with the S.F. opera's patrons one hour prior to the Opera's actual performance. And now all that knowlege is available to anyone in a 75 minutes long ZOOM programs that are broadcasted to subscribers  on Sundays, at 1PM. The only thing one needs to do, is reserve his or her place in the ZOOM studio by calling "Opera Aficionado "at the S Francisco Opera Ticket Office (415- 864-3330) and buying a ticket for a particular show. The Tickets are $20.00, not per person but per household watching in one computer.

To give our readers a better information of " Opera Aficionado" Cultural World Bilingual interviewed Cole Thomason-Redus, who works as Educational Content Curator of the Department of Diversity, Equity and Community at San Francisco Opera, and serves as the host of the program. We began our interview by asking him:

C.W.B. What is The Department of Diversity Equity and Community at the San Francisco Opera, Cole? 

C.T.R.: "It it was created in August of 2019, and we are the first Major opera company in the United States who has it. It is also very important.

C.W.B. What do you do as Educational Content Curator?

C.T.R. As the Educational Content Curator my job is to create educational experiences which will inspire people, of any age to make opera part of their lives. So, there are many facets to what we do. One of them is to increase the education outreach of the San Francisco Opera in the Schools of California, teaching young minds about story-telling, this includes not only making children aware of our opera repertoire, but also encouraging them to make their own stories. Because of it, the educational component is a very important part of what we do.

Another important part of our work is looking at the audience of the San Francisco's Opera and seeing how we can change the audience, to become more representative of the variety of people who represent the Bay Area and the world. As an art, Opera has a long history, and it has excluded people of certain cultures in the past. It is our work to try to undo that. So we are trying to make Opera a more inclusive art that embraces all cultures.

Another part or our work, is to be sure that the stories we tell are all inclusive and represent everybody, so that everybody  may come to the Opera, and see themselves in the characters and even say, that person may represent me. I want to keep watching these stories for the rest of my life.

A lot of my work, however, had included working with the members of our company, engaging them in discussions about equality and race. We have a monthly meeting which is called "Space for All" where all workers in the company are able to join us on ZOOM and where each month we have a presentation of issues pertaining to equity, diversity and inclusion."

C.W.B: Changing the subject, Cole, two weeks ago, I watched your "Opera Aficionado's" segment "Books that Sing" and it was such a unique, creative an educational program that it impelled me to call the Opera and ask for an interview with you, so you can you tell our readers something about your ZOOM programs.

C.T.R: "The program that you saw was an episode of  "Opera Aficionado" a weekly series that we present in ZOOM  that began in 2020 as a way to reach our audience during the time that we could not have live performances and utilize our scholars to give their talks. So, we created the program to allow people to learn more about Opera.  Each month, the program has a theme, and each week, a person lectures about that theme. So in April our theme is "page to spage" and what it means is that we looked at a word in a story that become operas. So, last week you saw "Books that Sing" where our panelists were SF Opera Dramaturge Emeritus Kip Cranna, and SF Opera Music Planning Associate and Opera Librarian Michael Bragg, spent a few minutes talking about a handful of books, including novels, which have become operas. On April 24 we have Dr. Laura Pritchard"

In this program Dr. Pritchard talked about the Opera Carmen. How the story of Carmen actually came from a woman's diary that was used by Mérimée (a French writer) to write a novel that Meilhac and Halivy (two librettists) coveted in the Libretto of the Pseudo Spanish music of Georges Bizet's (l838-1875) opera Carmen. The story of a gypsy who lures a sergeant to abandon his post and join a band of smugglers, and at the end, when she abandons him in favor of a toreador, dies stabbed by her lover.

C.T.R. "In May 1st our episode will be The Butterfly Project with Aria Umezawa returning to Opera Aficionado to discuss the representation of Asian Culture in Opera, within the context of the character of Madam Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini. Its folk-based melodies now live on a new work by composer Teiya Kasahare, titled the Butterfly Project. Those who join us will have a chance to discuss appropriation, racism and appropriate inclusion. There won't be a program on Mother's Day."

" In May 15 we will present Tomorrow's Memories: a Little Manila Diary. The long-awaited premiere of a new choral Opera, with their Artistic Director Valérie Sainte-Agate joining us along with composer Matthew Welch, and Acting Director of the Smithsonian Institution's Asian Pacific American Center, Theodore Gonzalvez who will discuss the new work. "

" In May 22 we will have Émigré. The fascinating story of 1930' Shanghai, as it played host and safe haven to Jewish refugees. with a regular  and beloved speaker Laura Prichard, who will introduce to us a new oratorio by noted California Film composer Aaron Zigman, Commissioned by the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic.

Cultural World Bilingual, better know as the "English/Spanish Cultural Voice of Silicon Valley" in the United States, Europe, Mexico and South America, will end this interview by thanking Curator and Host Cole Thomason-Redus for this very informative interview, and the San Francisco Opera, for presenting in ZOOM one of the most creative programs to educate people about Opera, ever presented before, in "Opera Aficionado".