Opera for kids takes aim at bullying
Written by DAVID DUPONT Sentinel Arts & Entertainment Editor
Friday, 11 May 2012 10:23
Mozart never wrote an opera about bullying.
|The Billy Goats Gruff Briana Sosenheimer (from left), Ben Laur and Brianna Michalko, sing about how to deal with a bully. (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
That doesn't stop a troupe of Bowling Green State University students and May graduates to take a version of "The Billy Goats Gruff" with melodies from W.A. Mozart, Gaetano Donzetti and Gioachino Rossini into schools to promote anti-bullying efforts.
Though opera and kids aren't supposed to mix, Bowling Green Children's Opera company had a couple hundred students in kindergarten through grade two entertained and laughing. They offered advice to the cast and roared at lines such as: "I'm going to poop your party."
The Bowling Green Children's Opera, which is not affiliated with the university, was the brainchild of Brianna Michalko who graduated last weekend as a music education and vocal performance major.
Last year, she wanted to find an avenue to create more performance opportunities for singers. At first she thought about staging a show of different scenes from opera, then she thought about doing children's opera.
That combines the educational and musical side of Michalko's training. "I've always loved both equally. This is just one way to combine them both."
Last year's production was "Three Little Pigs." Like "The Billy Goats Gruff," it is one of the Opera Tales series produced by John Davies. He takes solos and ensembles from famous operas and gives them new words.
The shows are fun in part, Michalko said, because every setting and every audience is different. "You can change it up whenever you do it."
Last year she was "kind of flying by the seat of the pants." Still she felt it merited going out again. "It's just a great experience for us, and I hope for the kids."
Not only do the shows give students experience. "We can be silly."
The spontaneity of the young audiences keep the performances fresh. The children will warn the goats when the bully is approaching, but also help the bully at times.
Michalko said during one performance she was hiding from the bully played by Jason Eschhoffen in the audience, and the children were pointing to where she was. When she got up to escape, the children grabbed her and held her.
The melodies and silliness coat a serious message about bullying. It addresses different strategies including avoiding the situation, telling an adult or standing up for oneself.
Kenwood Principal Martha Fether said the show exposes students to opera and it ties into the district's efforts to combat bullying.
Other members of this year's company are singers Briana Sosenheimer, Ben Laur and Eschhoffen with pianist Sarah Puckett.
It was in school that Michalko's love of both music and teaching was nurtured. She performed in musical and choral groups and helped her music teachers as much as she could.
Her vocal music teacher suggested she consider BGSU, but Michalko had never heard of the university and dismissed it at first. Then she decided to come out to audition, and she was sold. "The faculty were so welcoming, and the students smiled," Michalko, who studies with Ellen Scholl, said. "I don't know that I'd be able to do this anywhere else."
At BGSU she's performed in a number of operas, mostly in chorus parts.
She said she plans to stay in BG next year working as a substitute teacher and continuing to take voice lessons.
The troupe performs through the month, including in Perrysburg today and as well as Otsego, Elmwood, North Baltimore districts Wood Lane, the Pathe Center and Conneaut Elementary in Bowling Green.
Then the company will head to Michalko's hometown Canandaigua in western New York, where they'll do several shows in area schools. The troupe will perform the 40-minute opera more than two dozen times.
As one girl announced after a recent performance: "This is opera, but I liked it."