Photo: The Queen of the Night in an 1815 production of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte. Photograph by Karl Friedrich Schinkel
Have you ever been to the opera? It is astounding! We will share our experience starting with an Overture. Ridgeline Academy’s fourth-graders took a field trip to the Arizona Opera Center. It was an afternoon filled with songs, stories, costumes and rehearsals. The center is located at 1636 N. Central Avenue in the Uptown Phoenix Arts District. When we got there were greeted by Arizona Opera’s Caitie Quick. Quick and Director of Education, Joshua Borths, coordinated our afternoon.
First on the program were three arias. An aria is a long, accompanied song for a solo voice. The first aria, written by Wolfgang Mozart, was sung by a man. The second aria was sung by a soprano named Rhea and the final aria by a mezzo-soprano named Erin. The soprano voice is the highest in range, while the mezzo-soprano sings in a somewhat lower musical register.
“I liked when they sang in a group,” comments student Rees Goodall, “and also when they did the solos.”
Students were smiling throughout the afternoon.
“We’re always happy to have students visit us at our opera center. So much work goes into putting these wonderful productions on stage, and when we get to show a piece of that, we get a much deeper connection with our audiences,” Quick shares.
We were taught about opera etiquette, such as the appropriate times to applaud during an opera performance without interrupting the flow of the action.
We learned that one calls out “Bravo!” to a male singer but “Brava!” to a female singer. Additionally, all the elements that make up an opera were explained— characters, plots and emotional intensity. Even though most operas performed today are in foreign languages, the audience can still understand the emotions by the quality of the music, expressions and the acting.
Next, we were given a tour of the costume and wardrobe studio. Students were delighted to actually see the costumers in action; they watched one seamstress measure fabric while two of her colleagues worked at sewing machines. Fourth-grader Jillian Koehne says she really enjoyed the opera-tunity to see them put the outfits together. It was an enriching experience.
“The performance becomes more meaningful when you see a performer nail those notes and remember how hard they had to work during rehearsal, or when you see a beautiful costume and can say you know about the work and skill required to put something like that together,” Quick adds.
The visit was capped by a live rehearsal of “Falstaff,” based on a character in “The Merry Wives of Windsor” by Shakespeare. Singers moved about the stage positioning themselves according to taped markers on the stage floor. The singers were accompanied by a single pianist; later rehearsals would involve a full orchestra. We had to stay very quiet because the room was large and even small sounds echoed, but it was easy to be silent when surrounded by such magnificent vocalism.
Bravo to the Arizona Opera Center whose programs for educating the public about opera (Opera-tune-ities) include Opera at your School, Night at the Opera and pre- and post-performance talks. For more information, visit www.azopera.org, where stories are worth singing.