Members of the Florentine Opera Company will trippity-trop, trippity-trop right over the bridge from Milwaukee to Oconomowoc to perform the operatic version of the classic fairytale, “The Billy Goats Gruff.”
A performance for area elementary school students is scheduled during the day and then for the general public at 7 p.m. Tuesday, January 24, at the Oconomowoc Arts Center.
A musical partnership
“Over the past seven years we have enjoyed hosting the Florentine Opera Studio Artists program, which provides a key component for the elementary music curriculum and offers our elementary school students the opportunity to perform on stage with professional singers,” said Michael Duncan, Oconomowoc Arts Center director.
The Florentine Opera Company is Wisconsin’s oldest fully professional performing arts organization and the sixth-oldest opera company in the United States.
Part of the professional opera company’s touring education outreach program, the production features the vocal talents of the Florentine Opera Studio Artists and is designed to introduce young people and their families to everything opera has to offer.
“Having the opportunity to partner with the Oconomowoc Arts Center allows us to reach out to many more students. Introducing opera to children at a young age is important because they don’t have any preconceived notions about this art form. They’re so open to it – people are telling them stories through music and they can really appreciate that,” said Pablo Siqueiros, education and community engagement manager.
The Florentine Opera Company has adapted the classic children’s story for today’s audiences using the beauty of opera to tell a tale. Written by professional opera singer and director John Davies, Opera Tales combines familiar fairy tales with the music of classical composers, and is designed to encourage an interest and enthusiasm for literature and music through musical theater.
Set to recognizable melodies from some of opera’s most well-known composers, including Mozart, Rossini and Donizetti, “The Billy Goats Gruff” addresses the timely subject of bullying. During the course of the opera, the three billy goats must deal with a big bully blocking their way across a bridge. Each goat chooses how to deal with the conflict, learning that compassion can lead to friendship.
The opera company utilizes Opera Tales in its efforts to reach out to the next generation of audience members and supporters of the arts. The audience will also have the opportunity to ask the performers questions after the show.
“We never know what kids are going to say or react to during a performance or the Q&A. This is what makes our job exciting. They keep us on our toes and it's rewarding to hear them enjoy what we consider our craft,” said soprano Ariana Douglas.
Getting into the act
When the Florentine Opera studio artists don beards and bibs and belt it big about bridges and bullies, they won’t be alone.
Soprano Ariana Douglas, mezzo-soprano Ashley Puenner, tenor Thomas Leighton and baritone Leroy Davis will be accompanied by a talented band of singing billy goats and trolls portrayed by the third-grade choir club from Oconomowoc’s Greenland Elementary School.
To prepare for their big stage debut, the choir club, under the direction of Greenland Elementary music teacher Andrea Heinzelman, has been rehearsing all month to master the music provided by the Florentine Opera.
“This is an amazing opportunity for our students. Learning about opera through a story that is so familiar is a wonderful way to open up their minds about exploring this art form,” said Heinzelman.
The young students will also have the opportunity to work directly with the resident artists and Scott Stewart, Florentine Opera chorus master and associate conductor to practice the music, learn stage movement and create costumes for the performance.
“It is important to reach out to children because they are accepting and willing to enjoy every moment they see and hear. Even if we as performers don't think a certain part of our performance was great, children look beyond that and make it worthwhile!” said Douglas.
Tickets for the evening performance of “The Billy Goats Gruff” are $15 for adults and $10 for high school students and younger and military personnel (with ID).
The Oconomowoc Arts Center (OAC) box office is open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays, noon to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and 4 to 7 p.m. Thursdays. In addition, the box office is open 90 minutes prior to events.
The OAC is located at 641 East Forest St. and is part of the Oconomowoc Area School District. For more information, call the OAC Box Office at 262-560-3172 or visit www.theoac.net.
For more information about the Florentine Opera Company and its education and outreach programs, visit www.florentineopera.org.
Rebecca Seymour is a freelance writer and photojournalist and author of "Connecting with Wisconsin Wildlife." She lives in Oconomowoc with her husband and two daughters.