More than 100 Winston-Salem State University students attended the Piedmont Opera’s production of “The Barber of Seville” earlier this week.
Among them was Greenville native George Bailey IV, a freshman exercise science major who is a bit of an opera veteran, having attended the Piedmont Opera’s “Carmen” last fall along with other members of WSSU’s Renaissance male mentoring program. Bailey, the oldest of three children, said he is intentionally stepping outside his comfort zone in hopes of obtaining a well rounded liberal arts education.
“I wouldn’t think as a black kid I would go to an opera, so it’s expanding your horizons,” he said. “You just got to go out and do stuff. You’ll never know if you like it if you don’t try it.”
Trae Cotton, vice chancellor of Student Affairs at the university and a member of the Piedmont Opera Board of Directors, helped to secure the tickets for the students, many of whom are freshman and transfer students from Renaissance, which he helped to found on campus last spring. A contingent of students from the university’s Real Men Teach program also attended.
The Dallas, Tex. native said the exposure to the opera lends depth to the students’ collegiate experience, regardless of whether they become opera lovers.
“We’re going to provide you the opportunity to go, and if you don’t like it, that’s fine, but you really can’t say you don’t like something until you’ve tried it, so it’s really the exposure that I’m looking for,” explained Cotton, who has been at WSSU since 2011. “Here in the City of the Arts and Innovation, there’s a multiplicity of things that our students can engage in and I’d like to expose them to those.”
Renaissance participants’ initial trip to the opera in October was well received by students, Cotton said.
“Our students were tweeting with each other about the performance,” he reported. “What that meant for me was that they got it – they understood it. It’s hard to ask for much more than that.”
Cotton said the school found plenty of takers for the “Barber of Seville” tickets, which the program purchased at a reduced rate and is distributing to students free of charge.
“We got a negative response to ‘Carmen’ in the sense that we didn’t have enough tickets,” he related. “So far, we’re getting a similar type of response in terms of students wanting to go.”
The students’ receptivity pleases Piedmont Opera Director of Development Connie Schroeder.
“He (Cotton) said they have no trouble getting 100 students to take to the opera, which is exciting to me,” said the Coco Beach, Fla. native. “They’re looking for opportunities to come, and we could not be any more thrilled.”
WSSU’s support of the opera is helping the company to build a new generation of opera lovers, Schroeder said.
“We want opera to be young and hip. We really want to diversify our audience in a lot of ways,” she explained. “We really want to grow opera from a young age. We feel like if we get them as students, then we’ll have lifelong opera lovers.”
Piedmont Opera is looking to expand its partnership with WSSU and other area colleges in the near future, through programming that would link education with upcoming shows, Schroeder said.
Cotton believes incorporating the arts is an important component in 21st Century education and helps to better prepare students for the global market.
“A Renaissance man knows about a lot of different things and is comfortable being able to move in and out of a variety of different settings,” commented the father of two. “…I think arts is a critical component of that.”
Rodie Lamb, a freshman from Beaufort, S.C., also returned to the opera this week after enjoying “Carmen” last year.
“The opera, that was something new to me,” he said. “The only ‘Carmen’ I’d ever seen before was the (MTV television show) ‘hip hopera’ with Beyonce. Being able to see the original was a new experience… It took me awhile to get into the opera, but once I did, I really liked it.”
The aspiring entrepreneur said he was looking forward to seeing “The Barber of Seville” along with fellow Renaissance Program participants Tuesday night.
“It’s a blessing because it’s a unique opportunity,” he declared. “There are adults who haven’t been to an opera, so for me as a college student to do that, that’s an incredible opportunity.”
For more information about Piedmont Opera, visit www.piedmontopera.org or call 336-725-7101.