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Opera-to-go brings musical stories to kids

Opera-to-go brings musical stories to kids

Opera Saratoga hopes to make opera and kids a likely partnership.
Opera-to-go brings musical stories to kids
Opera Saratoga is bringing opera to schools throughout the region. They recently visited Brown School for students to learn about opera through Davies' "The Three Little Pigs" story. Pictured is the Big Bad Wolf, Stephen Clark, bass-baritone, and Britt...
Photographer: Marc Schultz

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Opera Saratoga hopes to make opera and kids a likely partnership.

“Kids aren’t born disliking opera,” said Lawrence Edelson, the new artistic and general director of Opera Saratoga. “If we can get opera in front of kids, they can battle the stereotypes, like thinking of it as antique.”

That’s where the company’s Opera-to-Go program comes in. Since 1996, the company has toured elementary schools in a 12-county area in early spring with a children’s opera that is about 35 minutes in length.

Singers come from the company’s young artists program, which is part of the summer’s mainstage season. The opera’s “libretto” is usually based on a nursery tale sung in English and uses music that composers such as Mozart, Offenbach, Rossini or Donizetti wrote for one of their operas.

This season’s Opera-to-Go is John Davies’ “The Three Little Pigs,” with music by Mozart.

In the late 1990s, only 25 performances were given; this year there will be 61 shows, reaching more than 25,000 students.

For the singers, that means having to often sing two performances a day and sometimes even a third for a six-day week for up to six weeks. That grueling schedule is familiar for bass Stephen Clark, who plays Wolfgang Bigbad.

“I was part of Seagle Colony’s first season last year of doing kids’ operas in the schools,” he said. “So I’m prepared for the need for flexibility in singing in many different venues. It will be challenging.”

Opera-to-Go

-- Saturday, 11 a.m. — Crandall Public Library, Glens Falls

-- March 14, 10 a.m. — Arts Center for the Capital Region, Troy

-- March 14, 2 p.m. — New York State Museum, Albany

-- March 21, 11 a.m. — Saratoga Springs Public Library, Saratoga Springs

HOW MUCH: Free

MORE INFO: 584-6018; www.operasaratoga.org

But soprano Brittany Fouche and baritone Geoffrey Penar, who play two of the pigs, have never sung a kid’s opera or played to a student crowd.

“I’m excited to get going. I love kids,” Penar said. “I used to baby-sit. I expect I’ll get a lot of energy back from the kids.”

Fouche was looking forward to the question-and-answer period that follows each performance as well as demonstrating what her vocal range is.

“I hope they’ll learn that opera is more approachable and that they don’t have to understand Italian,” she said.

Tenor Aaron Casey, who’s done some opera for middle-school students in Houston, and plays the third pig, said he hoped to inspire the next generation of actors. And the pianist for the show, Zalman Kelber, said he’s learned that kids require more energy from performers.

“You have to make gestures bigger and make your thoughts more visible,” he said.

The show includes a basic set and costumes built by Patti Pawliczak. The singers, chosen out of a field of 1,031 applicants, will drive to each gig no matter the weather.

Edelson said the program is essential to the company’s vision.

“If we can get children to connect to live opera in a visceral way that brings a story to life through music, it is as important as what we’re doing on the mainstage,” he said.

“It gets harder for children as they get older to avoid the stereotype that opera has been perceived as being inaccessible. That’s why we want to do a high-school tour in 2016, with material that is appropriate for older kids.”

Funding for the program comes from various sources, but each school’s fee is $550. Although there are many repeat schools in each year’s schedule, requests from a new school can come from a teacher, volunteer or even a parent, said Chris Patregnani, the company’s community and education program liaison.

“Just one volunteer advocate can make a huge difference,” he said.

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