Performing Arts

To get more kids to love opera, this high school soprano is putting on a benefit concert

Jayden Goldberg on the stage of Bass Performance Hall.
Jayden Goldberg on the stage of Bass Performance Hall. Kirstie Marie Photography

Southlake teen Jayden Goldberg is one of those people who discovered her great passion early. She loves opera, and she excels at it.

At age 18, Goldberg has already amassed an enviable resume. A senior at Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts, she has performed with the Fort Worth Opera and at Dallas Stars and Texas Rangers games, and fielded eight scholarship offers from universities and music conservatories.

This weekend, though, between senior prom and her high school graduation, her energies are focused on a benefit concert she organized. She’s both the star of and the impresario behind “Share the Passion,” which will help treat kids from underserved schools to a night at the opera. Goldberg and five talented schoolmates will sing opera arias, classical “art songs” and musical-theater favorites on Sunday afternoon at the Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts on South Hulen. One hundred percent of revenues raised will go to the Fort Worth Opera’s Student Night at the Opera program, which invites students to attend FWO productions at Bass Hall for a $5 ticket price (regular prices can range up to $195). It often helps pay for transportation to the hall, too.

The idea grew from Goldberg’s search for a suitable senior “capstone” project at FWAFA. “Basically, every senior picks something they’re really passionate about, maybe women’s rights — it’s different for every person,” Jayden says. “I was thinking about something to do with opera, because that’s my thing. And I decided I would rather do something about it than just go up onstage and talk about it.”

She believes that more kids would love opera if they had the chance to experience it.

“A lot of the reason you don’t see younger kids interested in opera is that it’s not really accessible for them. I thought this would be a great way to get them out to come see it.”

Goldberg thinks opera is actually a good fit for young people.

“It’s really enjoyable, it’s just not the first thing kids think of as being really, really fun. It incorporates so many different art forms, and kids love art,” Goldberg says. “There’s singing, there’s acting, a lot of the time there’s dancing, there’s sets, there’s lighting, there’s an orchestra. It’s cool because it puts together everything.”

Officials at the Fort Worth Opera share this view. Sheran Goodspeed Keyton, the company’s coordinator of educational outreach, runs Student Night at the Opera. “I polled the teachers this year and asked them to poll their students. More than 50 percent of the students and chaperones not only have never been to the opera before but have never been to Bass Hall before,” she says.

Before the FWO’s festival season each spring, Keyton contacts school districts, beginning with Fort Worth’s, to offer $5 tickets to attend full dress rehearsals of each of the opera’s main stage productions at Bass Hall. She also approaches community groups such as boys and girls clubs and YMCAs. Students from as far away as Austin and Houston have participated in the past. This year, a group from Pottsboro (in Grayson County) attended an opera and then stayed overnight in a Fort Worth hotel.

Full dress rehearsals are seamless, polished evenings that almost always unfold just like regular performances.

Student Night at the Opera helps kids get beyond the intimidation factor, Keyton says. “They may think everyone here will be dressed in tuxedos and formal gowns and be judgmental. Or be in a social class different from their own. That can be a little intimidating, so this program relieves that and allows them to see that it’s a beautiful structure and an art form that maybe they’ve never experienced before but can learn to appreciate quickly.”

Next season’s operas include George Gershwin’s classic piece of Americana Porgy & Bess, as well as El Pasado Nunca se Termina, a mariachi-inspired opera by composer Jose “Pepe” Martinez. (The season runs April 26-May 12, 2019.) Both can be seen as accessible programming that’s well-suited to community outreach.

Fort Worth Opera provides kids a detailed study guide for each production that includes opera etiquette, what to wear to the opera, activities like scavenger hunts and word searches and a synopsis of the opera’s plot and themes. “We want to help them be superfamiliar with the program before the opera starts so they can understand what is going on,” Keyton says.

She stresses how important funding this program is. “Even with a small price of $5, there are still students who can’t afford that or the transportation to Bass Hall. This is going to allow me to reach out to some of those schools where normally those students wouldn’t be able to come.”

Goldberg, a full-voiced soprano, began singing when she was 9 at the Acting Studio in Grapevine. “I started off doing musical theater and one of my voice teachers recommended that I start trying more classical pieces. I just loved them and started getting more involved with classical music,” she says. “But there was really no opera for kids my age. That was one of the reasons I decided I wanted to spread opera to younger kids.”

Still, she has worked hard to find opportunities to learn and to perform. She won second place in the voice category early this year at the National YoungArts Week in Miami. She was the youngest performer at the Amalfi Coast Music & Arts Festival in Italy. She sang Ave Maria at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican at age 14 and performed in Fort Worth Opera’s Don Pasquale just this month.

She takes voice lessons from Angela Turner Wilson, a professor at TCU. “She’s amazing and I would not be where I am today without her,” Goldberg says. That training has helped propel her to Boston Conservatory at Berklee, where she will begin undergraduate studies in vocal performance this fall.

At Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts, she is grateful for music teacher Cory Curvin. “He is an accompanist, he’s a choir teacher, he is the music theory teacher, he’s the music director of all the shows. He’s an amazing guy — so helpful. He spends time his free time, his lunch, after school helping kids with performing, with auditions, working on their music with them.”

Curvin will accompany the singers on the concert Goldberg has put together. She will open the program by talking about her project and what it means to her, then show a short video. She booked a young speaker who will briefly talk about the potentially life-changing experience of participating in Student Night at the Opera. Then comes the music.

Goldberg will open and close the one-hour program with solo performances. In between, she and classmates will perform opera selections and other classical songs. “And we’ll be throwing a bit of musical theater in here and there.”

They’ll be dressed up but the audience doesn’t have to be. “We’ll all be wearing gowns. It won’t be costumes but we’ll be looking very grand.”

Goldberg also arranged for a Bugatti Ristorante in Dallas to donate food for a dessert reception afterward. The entire audience is invited. Those who spring for the $100 donation package are invited to a pre-concert reception as well. General admission tickets are just $5, so that as many people as possible can hear these songs and contribute something to the cause.

“Jayden is an amazing humanitarian for even thinking in terms of wanting to do this for these underserved students,” says Keyton. “I think it’s important to highlight the fact that there are so many young people who don’t get this exposure, to this or other artforms. And we as a community should continue to try and reach out and connect in any way that we can to these young people.”

Share the Passion: Benefit Concert for Opera Outreach

3 p.m. Sunday, May 20, at Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts, 3901 S. Hulen St.

General admission $5; $50 and $100 packages include a T-shirt and other extras