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This Kansas City production welcomes children to the opera — with a wombat

Members of the Wolf Trap Opera perform a scene from 'Listen, Wilhelmina!'
Scott Suchman
Wolf Trap Opera
Members of the Wolf Trap Opera perform a scene from 'Listen, Wilhelmina!'

It can be daunting for children approaching a classical concert or opera for the first time. Lyric Opera of Kansas City's newest production — 'Listen, Wilhemina!' — aims to make kids feel at home in the audience.

Growing up in Wollongong, Australia, Carolyn Watson encountered a fair amount of wombats. Now, as an acclaimed conductor, she's conducting an opera with Lyric Opera of Kansas City that stars...three wombats.

"Listen, Wilhelmina!" is a children's opera that explores the first concert experience for these wombats. And for a wombat named Wilhelmina, listening and following opera etiquette is a bit of a challenge.

The concert hall and the musicians seem to carry so much sophistication that it can be hard, even for adults, to know how to show their enthusiasm for fear of acting a little improper.

Conductor Carolyn Watson
Courtesy of Artist
Conductor Carolyn Watson

Many who attend classical concerts may recognize the ritual surrounding these events: the ensemble is separated from the audience, with set times to clap and show appreciation for the music.

If you aren't acquainted with this structure, like Wilhelmina, attending a performance can seem daunting or unwelcoming.

The classical music industry as a whole has been reckoning with conventions surrounding performances and what "proper" decorum looks — or sounds — like.

Watson sees this trend changing across the industry.

"I think now we're at a point where people are realizing that's perhaps not the most meaningful way of connecting with people."

Watson has worked internationally with symphony orchestras as well as opera and ballet companies, including the Kansas City Chamber Orchestra, Kansas City Ballet, and Lyric Opera on many occasions.

But, conducting an opera meant for children is a unique experience.

"I'm really looking forward to being part of something that really brings so much to young people," she says, "I think a fundamental part of my role."

Watson considers herself a "music educator at heart," and "Listen, Wilhelmina!" is the perfect crossover between teaching and conducting.

"[This opera] allows for connection between the cast, the creatives — myself included as the conductor — and the audience and also shows the audience it's okay to show your appreciation."

Learn more about Carolyn Watson on her website, and find out more about 'Listen, Wilhelmina!' on Lyric Opera of Kansas City's website.

This 5-minute spotlight was produced with help from Sam Wisman.

Kansas City native Christy L’Esperance (pronounced “LESS-per-ahns") started listening to classical music on the Snoopy radio she got for her 4th birthday. Today, as Classical KC’s Community Engagement Specialist and On-Air Host, she enjoys classical music through much better speakers. You can reach Christy at She would love to hear about the ways you keep music in your life.
Brooke Knoll is the digital audience specialist and afternoon host for Classical KC. You can reach her at
Sam Wisman is a Senior Producer for 91.9 Classical KC and a backup announcer for KCUR 89.3. Email him at