Meet: Teen Opera Enthusiast Layla Felder
"It’s like oxygen for me. It’s like water. It’s like food. You can’t BE without it."
When Elmo asked Denyce Graves to sing him a bedtime story on Sesame Street, the operatic mezzo-soprano sang a parody of “La Habanera” from Bizet’s Carmen. Meanwhile, a young, two year-old girl watched and loved the rendition so much, she asked her mom to play it over and over again. It was in that moment that the young opera enthusiast was born in Layla Felder.
Noticing that Layla might like opera, her mom shared with her scenes from the film Amadeus and The Magic Flute. And, over the years, her love of opera began to grow.
“And here we are 12 years later,” said Layla. “I would not be the person I am today without opera and it would be very hard to continue without opera.”
Having attended over 130 operas, the now 14 year-old Layla is a regular attendee, donor, and ambassador of the art. She’s also responsible for introducing many children in her generation to opera.
Kids Art and Opera Posse
During performances, Layla noticed most of the other attendees were around 60 years old and older. She realized if more younger people didn’t support the opera, then the audience would die.
So, in 2011, Layla founded the Kids Art and Opera Posse (KAOP) as a way to introduce her peers to the art. Members of the club attend opera performances in addition to touring art museums.
Of those trips, they visit The Metropolitan Opera House (the Met) at least twice a year. At the start of the club, the kids sent a package of heartfelt letters - Layla’s letter alone was nine pages long - and checks for membership to the Met.
The Met was so impressed by the package that they gave KAOP exclusive access to special performances, pre-show dining, backstage meet-and-greets, and behind-the-stage access to the costume and wig shops.
The Met also named Layla an ambassador, making her the youngest person to receive the designation in the company’s history.
HD Live in Schools Program
In her role, Layla serves as a host for the Atlanta chapter (AMC Dine-in Theater Buckhead) of the Met HD Live in Schools program which brings live opera performances to students across the nation through their local movie theaters. The program has sent more than 100,000 kids in public schools to the opera through this technology, making it more accessible for people - particularly the younger generation - to experience the opera.
Annual Kids Opera & Art Posse Ring Cycle Endurance Walk
Layla also supports the program through her club’s (KAOP) Annual Kids Opera & Art Posse Ring Cycle Endurance (5K) Walk. To date, they have raised over $23,000 for HD Live in Schools.
For the Love of Opera
If there is any doubt about how passionate she is about opera, just ask her.
“That’s actually one of the questions I’ve been trying to answer," Layla said. "It’s not really a thing that you can put your finger on. It’s like, you know, like why you need air. You know without air then your body can’t function and so you die. With opera there are so many things I love about it from the music to the acting to like all the skills that go into it to bring it together, and like all the different things that are incorporated -- theater, history, art, fashion, design. There are so many different parts. You can’t have one thing without the other. It’s like oxygen for me. It’s like water. It’s like food. You can’t BE without it.”
An evening at the metropolitan opera house
After our interview with Layla, we had the opportunity to experience an evening of opera firsthand with her and the KAOP. There were about 20 people in the group of all ages. We dined at The Grand Tier at the Met and then sat front stage for the performance, Le Nozze Di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). Afterwards, we headed backstage to the Green Room for a meet-and-greet with the cast, some of whom were more in awe of meeting Layla.
Idler said, “Everyone knows you.” Nadine shouted, “OMG, I know you from Instagram!’
The night was definitely one for the books. Though much of the opera demographic is currently in the 60+ range, there should be no concern about the art dying away anytime soon. It's safe to say the longevity of opera looks pretty bright thanks to this 14 year-old's passion for the art.
And to think, it all started with Sesame Street.
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