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- Taking Classical Music to Classrooms -
Adirondack Life Magazine, April 2007
By Geraldine Freedman
Thirty children broke into laughter as the giant, aka, bass-baritone Chris Temporelli, collided with a cow in front of the castle. The cow was really Minerva Central School first graders Amber Vanderwarker and Blake Piper in costume.
"It was embarrassing," Piper said later. Both kids had volunteered to be in an operatic production of Jack and the Beanstalk in the school’s gymnasium, but neither had known they would be playing a cow.
The 2006 performance was part of Lake George Opera’s six-week Opera-to-Go tour, which brings professional musicians to schools every February through April. The children’s opera Little Red’s Most Unusual Day, a forty minute performance based loosely on the Little Red Riding Hood fable, will be staged this year at fifty-eight schools for twenty thousand children from grades kindergarten to fifth in Warren, Washington, Saratoga, Schenectady, Rensselaer and Albany Counties and a few schools in Vermont. "We do a lot of driving," Deborah Rocco, the company’s education director, said with a laugh...
...The Company started the in-school program on a small scale in 1985. In 1999 new staff got excited about Opera-to-Go and put energy and resources into expanding it. William Florescu, then general manager, decided to present a different children’s opera every year for five years, rotating them sequentially.
But where to find children’s operas? Except for Humperdinck’ Hansel & Gretel, few composers write them. In the 1990s Opera Columbus, in Ohio, had produced John Davies’ The Three Little Pigs. For Davies, a bass-baritone living in Syracuse who sang with LGO in the 1980s, writing works for children was a way to entertain his own six kids. In 1991 he composed The Three Little Pigs. Davies discovered that by coupling a story familiar to children with the music of a classical composer, in this case Mozart, the experience was entertaining as well as educational. Florescu contacted Davies, and in 2000 Opera-to-Go presented The Three Little Pigs at twenty-five schools. A pianist and four singers performed. David Yergan and Gary Wilson, LGO’s scene design team, created a set that could be broken into panels for easy transport.
Response was so great that an average of five new school districts have been added each year since 2000, Rocco said. Davies has written all the librettos: Jack and the Beanstalk (2001) with music by Sir Arthur Sullivan; Little Red’s Most Unusual Day (2002) set to the music of Offenbach and Rossini; The Billy Goats Gruff (2003) with music by Mozart, Rossini and Donizetti; and Pinocchio (2004) with music by Mozart, Offenbach, Donizetti, Pergolesi and Sullivan. Small walk-on parts for school kids are always included to involve students more deeply...
...Teachers and children at the Minerva school, which has hosted the program annually since 2000, get more than entertainment out of Opera-to-Go, said superintendent Tim Farrell. Teachers integrate the history, music and parables of an opera into lessons so kids can make connections… An entertaining show that incorporates a bit of a moral with great music is especially priceless, he said. "It’s a great opportunity for the kids."
OPERA FOR KIDS
Bluffton Today (SC), Wednesday, May 3, 2006
Author: SPECIAL TO BLUFFTON TODAY
It was certainly not the typical opera audience. They were not dressed to the hilt and they were quite a bit shorter than the average Metropolitan Opera attendee. It was Opera for Kids and the youngsters at West Hardeeville and Ridgeland Elementary Schools were enthralled as entertainment usually presented only in major cities filled the Jasper County school venues April 24.
A grant from The Heritage Classic Foundation to the Cultural Council of Jasper County provided pre-K through second graders with the opportunity to hear the music of Sir Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) while they watched a performance of a story that they were quite familiar with, "Jack and the Beanstalk." The tale was adapted by John Davies and brought quite a bit of glee to students, as well as their teachers.
The touring company, a part of FBN Productions, has been introducing students in the Southeast to musical drama since 1994 and was making its fifth visit to Jasper County. General Director Ellen Douglas Schlaefer, formed the group both to make opera available to rural and inner-city schools and to provide an opportunity for young singers to break into the music business.
Peter Burroughs (Jack), Serena Hill (Jack’s mother and the Giant’s wife) and Josh Marr (Trouble Man and the Giant) were polished performers and held the audience in full attention as they presented the tale. Both school audiences were deeply involved as they laughed and pointed and squealed as the story unfolded. Stacy Holiday accompanied the performers on the piano.
Many of the classes worked with study guides so that they were well aware of just what to expect when exposed to an art that is often misunderstood. Some had recently read "Jack and the Beanstalk" so they were able to follow the plot without difficulty.
Stan Gwynn, the show’s director, explained that opera originated in Italy and asked if they knew how to speak Italian. After acknowledging that they knew the words spaghetti and pizza, they learned the new word "bravo," a word that echoed through the hall as the children screamed their approval of the performance.
- Where Wolfgang Amadeus Meets Wolfgang Bigbad -
New York Times, The (NY), Friday, April 8, 2005
By Laurel Graeber
No matter how many times you’ve been to the opera , you’ve probably never encountered a libretto quite like this: Despina, a little pig, visits the library to research how to build a house. A hungry wolf, Wolfgang Bigbad, pretends to be a statue outside the library. The statue ends up being invited to dinner at the house of one of Despina’s two siblings, where he wreaks havoc. Complications ensue until, finally, the pigs get the best of Wolfgang.
Yes, it sounds like "The Three Little Pigs." Yes, it sounds like "Don Giovanni." Actually, it’s both. This adaptation by John Davies, the last in a triple bill of 30- to 40-minute shows, is part of the Manhattan School of Music’s annual performance on Sunday introducing children to opera.
"He took Mozart’s music and wrote new lyrics," explained Gordon Ostrowski, the school’s director of opera studies… This "Three Little Pigs" is the culmination of an afternoon that gradually immerses children in opera’s ideas and techniques, liberally lacing the lessons with fairy tales and popular culture… (And you thought pigs could only squeal.)
"YOU’RE FUNNY!’ THEY’RE FUNNY - IT’S FUNNY TWO COMIC OPERAS MERIT THIS PRAISE, AND THE SINGERS PERFORM WELL, TOO.
Post-Standard, The (Syracuse, NY) - Saturday, September 18, 1999
By: David Reilly, Contributing writer
"Bravo!" is what people shout at operas. "Encore! Encore!" they yell.
It’s not too often they cry out, "You’re funny!"
There were no shouts of " bravo " Friday night. Nobody yelled "encore." But when John Davies made his appearance as the Big Bad Wolf in " Little Red’s Most Unusual Day ," the second of a pair of comic operas being staged by Star Productions and Empire Opera Theatre, one small critic in Mary Janes and curls cried out, "You’re funny!"
This was a terse, but accurate summation of Davies’ entrance, his performance in the first of the operas, "The Three Little Pigs," and of the whole cast and the entire production. He was funny, they were funny, it was funny.
That there were wonderful singing, beautiful music (by Mozart, Rossini and Jacques Offenbach) and a subtle, but instructive lesson in the art of opera - that was all so much cake to that little connoisseur. She liked the frosting, which was piled on rich, deep and sweet.
"You’re funny!" What higher praise?
Besides playing the big bad wolves in both operas, Davies wrote the librettos and adapted the stories.
His lyrics are clever and amusing. Dudley, the heroic forest ranger in "Little Red," singing his own praises, admits with all due modesty, "My character’s free of faults and depravities. Oh, by the way, I don’t have any cavities." While the wolf in "The Three Little Pigs" gets a whiff of dinner: "What was that? Am I mistaken? Can it be? It smells like bacon? Knife and spoon and then the fork, I think it’s time to eat some pork."
But both shows are opera, folks, and they make opera’s unique and intense demands on the talented cast. When it comes to the singing, no one’s joking around.