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Camp Introduces The Texting Generation To Opera

On a bright summer morning in Baltimore, camp is in full swing. A few dozen youngsters run through their daily exercises -- vocal exercises, that is. Forget the bug spray and sleeping bags. At Opera Camp, the kids need only bring talent and a desire to sing.

Five days a week, from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., camp is held inside a sprawling concert hall. The four-week session aims to introduce the texting generation to opera. Students receive instruction in music, acting, dance, lighting, set design, and makeup and wigs. Thanks to private donors, everything from field trips to lunch is free.

The 30 campers -- mostly 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds -- don't sing traditional campfire songs. Instead, they are learning the words to classical compositions in Italian and other languages.

Jamani Epps, 14, learned a mournful song about a heart wounded by love. Epps toured in 2007 with Broadway's The Lion King. But most of these campers aren't pros -- at least not yet.

Nicolas Randrianarivelo says he figures the camp will help him prepare for a career in show business.

"I wanted to work in gaining skills in opera and other things like dancing and acting," he says. This fall, he will enter Baltimore's performing-arts high school.

Jennifer Blades is a professional mezzo-soprano who teaches at the camp. She says opera companies nationwide are hosting youth programs.

"In order for us to have audiences for the future, and singers and musicians in the future, we need to be educating this age now," she says.

Jim Harp, an opera veteran who's worked with legends like Pavarotti and Beverly Sills, says he and other camp educators have tried to keep the lessons fun and relevant.

"With intrigue, with love interests, with hate, with conflict," he says. "And we tell them about other operas. And they say, 'Wow, it mirrors our life.' "

The campers have learned something new every day. They've studied great opera divas such as Leontyne Price, attended the symphony and taken yoga classes.

As part of the curriculum, the campers even created their own opera, titled Charlie and the Homework Robot, which they recently performed publicly. Naturally, it had plenty of high drama -- and voices raised high in song.

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