The Santa Monica Library is continuing its free monthly “Saturday Afternoons with Los Angeles Opera” themes.

The monthly gatherings highlight operas in the Los Angeles Opera current season. The interactive programs consist of multimedia talks, culminating with a concert by Los Angeles Opera artists.

Verdi’s Falstaff will be the theme Saturday, March 19th.

A “Behind the Scenes” look at opera is planned Saturday, April 9th.

Highlights of Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, are scheduled Saturday, May 14th.

A grand finale concert is planned Saturday, June 11th.

Each of the monthly events will be between 2 and 3:30 p.m. at the Senior Recreation Center, 1450 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica.

Organizers welcome all ages, and seating is on a first arrival basis.

The program originated in March 2002, when the Los Angeles Opera approached the Santa Monica city librarian about working together to present an opera series for the community that would be educational and entertaining.

The opera-theme program was developed and coordinated in Santa Monica by public services librarian Judith S. Graham, who coordinates the library’s community outreach programs for families and adults.

“Santa Monica was one of five test libraries,” Graham says. “Now, over 20 libraries participate in the opera program in the greater L.A. area.”

Benefiting both organizations, the program exposes a new generation to opera and the library has the opportunity to showcase its free resources, such as its opera DVDs, CDs, books, librettos and biographies, Graham says.

“Each opera presenter takes a different tack,” she says. “The presenter may talk about the opera’s story, play clips from the opera or pieces of music. The talks are entertaining, with lots of fascinating information.”

Graham adds that she never knows who will sing or what selections will be performed at the concert until shortly before the event.

At the concerts, organizers provide a handout noting the musical selections and Daniel Faltus, musical director and pianist for the event, brings the music alive by introducing each piece with a story.

A reception usually follows the concert and the audience has the opportunity to talk with the artists.

The talks usually draw between 30 and 40 people and the free concert draws a full house, although space is limited at the Senior Recreation Center, so organizers suggest an early arrival to get a seat.

Graham says the audiences are multigenerational and the program has enriched the community.

“People have said, ‘Thank you, the opera is too far and we never get a chance to go,'” Graham says. “For a teen, it’s hard to get them to sit through a whole opera, so the program exposes them to opera for a shorter time in a casual environment.”

Besides the opera-theme program, the public services librarians in Santa Monica coordinate music and cultural programs, hoping to bring younger audiences to the library.

“An educated society is a happier society,” Graham says. “Many don’t know the library is here and what it offers. If no one came we’d stop having a library.”

Other library programs that serve the community include book clubs, writing groups, story time for children and computer tutorials.

To broaden reader horizons, the library makes books more visible on the shelves and with displays.

“We know if we put a book on display it’ll be checked out,” Graham says. “We try to tie our displays to an event, ‘Black History Month’ or ‘Get Healthy in the New Year’, and we can highlight a part of the library’s collection that’s underutilized.”

Santa Monica Citywide Reads is another important library program that encourages appreciation for reading and book-centered discussion by inviting residents and visitors to read the same book and then gather to talk about it in various locations during April and May.

The featured book is The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini.

Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, Dr. Hosseini now lives in California and his book is recognized as the first Afghan novel written in English.

“Citywide Reads has a team component,” Graham says. “People are active, not passive and get to interact with other community members about what’s important to them.

“It’s a kick-start to get people communicating together, and the more people communicate, the more they get along.”

In conjunction with Citywide Reads and co-sponsored by the Friends of the Santa Monica Public Library and Santa Monica College Associates, Hosseini will do a reading from his book on Saturday, May 21st, at Santa Monica College.

Other related events include a lecture about The Kite Runner in the context of regional politics and U.S. foreign policy.

All library events are free and the Santa Monica Library offers phenomenal services compared to larger libraries, according to Graham.

“Part of the library’s mission is to bring the community together and provide a broad base of information; cultural programs are a part of that,” she says. “Information is gleaned from many different aspects, books and live music.

“When people come to the library for one of our events, they discover a whole world they didn’t realize was here.”

Information on branch locations and programs: