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Bravo: OPERA Iowa returns to Newton, visits schools

Published: Friday, March 22, 2013 12:31 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, March 22, 2013 12:55 p.m. CDT
(Ty Rushing/Daily News)
Brad Baron, Andrea Schokery, Tzu-Hwa Ho of Opera Iowa, conduct a opera workship with kids in Farrah Deppe third grade class at Thomas Jefferson Elementary.

Opera is back in Newton and kids are benefitting from it. Third graders from Thomas Jefferson Elementary and sixth graders from Woodrow Wilson Elementary both got to participate in the Opera Iowa dramatic return to the Newton area.

Getting the Opera Iowa Educational Touring troupe to perform was a collaborative effort between the Thomas Jefferson and Woodrow Wilson PTAs. Thomas Jefferson PTA president Stephanie Critchfield is ecstatic about exposing the kids to the opera.

“Growing up in Newton, OPERA Iowa used to come to the school, generally the high school, every year and do a performance for all of the elementary schools,” Critchfield said. “I moved back into town about four years ago, and we investigated doing it last year but just didn’t have enough time — unfortunately, just this year in terms of timing and everything. We thought it was most appropriate that the third and sixth graders participate and make it sort of a privilege because it’s exciting and in terms of space.”

“We are thrilled and we are hoping next year that we will have the funding in place and both principals have been fabulous to work with and accommodating. We are hoping to have all grades represented next year,” Critchfield continued. “Exposure to opera, I don’t think most kids get that experience, and we have something so close with the Des Moines Metro Opera. I think with exposure to that, ultimately we may have two or three or five opera singers come out of this group. Hopefully this plants a seed and they get the exposure that will warrant them to get an education in it.”

This year, they performed “The Three Little Pigs,” which was composed by John Davies to the music of Mozart. During these visits, they conduct several classroom workshops followed by a performance. Bob Lilly is one of the actors, singers and educators that is participating in OPERA Iowa.

“This is the education outreach program, kind of a tour,” Lilly said of OPERA Iowa. “We go around the whole state of Iowa. We go into elementary schools and do a children’s opera, workshops teaching kids about the performing arts, opera and singing. It’s a lot of fun to just interact with the kids everyday. To see their reactions to learning things for the first time about opera, to enjoying the story, and sometimes in the middle of the show they’re yelling at us, ‘Don’t go over there!’ — that kind of thing.”

Lilly’s sentiments seemed to ring true as third graders in Farrah Deppe’s class filled the room with laughter and high-pitched excitement during their workshop. Brad Baron, Andrea Schokery and Tzu-Hwa Ho of the OPERA Iowa troupe taught the kids about opera, quizzed them on it and then let them create their own opera.

The only condition was that it had to deviate from the “The Three Little Pigs.” The creative youngsters ended up changing the setting to Adventureland and the storyline featured one pig on the run from the wolf, who had just eaten the pig’s cousin, Billy.

Gaven Slycord shared what he learned from the workshop.

“I learned about opera,” Gaven said. “How high the voices get and recitative. It’s a fun word to say and the voices can get low. The characters have to change to get into their costumes real fast, and you can make your own skit. Some can be short and some can be long.”

“If you want to make your own orchestra you have to have a lot of stuff,” Evan Benac said of what he learned. “You can have low notes, really high notes and if you want to make a story for an opera, then you have to have like a problem and maybe some fun stuff in there. Like going to Adventrueland, Pluto or maybe they ate your cousin or something.”

OPERA Iowa is currently on tour from January to April and has been performing in the schools for 27 years and has reached close to 600,000 kids according to their site.

“They totally eat it up and you can tell that given the opportunity it’s something that they love,” Lilly said. “They fully embrace that’s it not always something that they have in their community or maybe they just never thought they would be interested in it. But when you expose them to the music or the full experience they go after it whole heartedly.”

Staff Writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641)-792-3121 Ext. 426 or trushing@newtondailynews.com

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