Greater Allegheny student extends Pittsburgh Opera’s tri-state educational reach

MCKEESPORT, Pa. — This summer, Tommi Barnes, a Greater Allegheny sophomore and McKeesport native, is fusing her passion for music and education at the Pittsburgh Opera. Barnes is one of three education interns responsible for creating lesson plans, study guides, articles and website content to help the opera’s director of education, Marilyn Egan, reach educators and classrooms in the tri-state area. 

Woman smiling with sunglasses on head.

 Penn State Greater Allegheny sophomore and McKeesport native Tommi Barnes, interned with the Pittsburgh Opera's education unit this summer.

Credit: Justin Varney

“Opera includes all the arts, and our mission is to share the arts widely through learning and experiencing the fascinating art form of opera,” said Egan. “After experiencing opera, students expand their world views.”  She added that opera sparks creativity and imagination in those who participate in the education unit’s programming.   

Schools participating in the Opera’s education program receive a show trunk, outfitted to look like the opera the class will study. The trunks include an array of teaching materials and tickets to attend the specific opera. 

Barnes and several other Opera employees spent their time writing lesson plans for the operas including “Carmen,” “Norma,” “Florencia en el Amazonas,” “The Last American Hammer,” “Alcina” and “Don Giovanni.” 

“It was a fun environment,” said Barnes. “We sat writing, working and listening to things. We read different synopsis of the different operas and collected and created good overviews.” 

During her internship, Barnes had the opportunity to meet and network with some of the top educators and performers in the industry. 

“One of the coolest things I experienced was meeting a lot of different people. If you know opera, I have met Lisette [Oropesa, American soprano],” said Barnes. “She is the equivalent to Beyoncé, but in the opera world.” 

Barnes learned of the position when she attended Penn State Greater Allegheny’s annual Distinguished Awards Dinner in March at the Duquesne Club in downtown Pittsburgh. Christopher Hahn, director of the Pittsburgh Opera and friend of longtime campus friends and volunteers John and Nancy Traina, attended the ceremony and spoke to Barnes’ roommate Katie Shields.  

“I only found it natural to bring up Tommi and how she can play so many instruments and has a passion for music,” said Shields. “He offered us four tickets to the Pittsburgh Opera as guests for the opening night of 'La Bohéme.' When we walked into the Benedum Center, Tommi looked at me and said: ‘This is my future.’” 

After her internship concludes, Barnes will move to University Park, where she will study music education. In the future, she said she would like to earn graduate degrees to teach younger children music in the mornings and math or history in the afternoon.