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Pedagogues Preach Puccini to Pupils

The Apex Herald
Reprinted by permission of The Apex Herald.

Pedagogues Preach Puccini to Pupils Davis Drive Elementary School starts opera program

by Thomas Melville

Some day, Triangle residents will ignore the ACC or NCAA tournaments, dress to the nines and enjoy an evening out of beautiful, lyric orchestrations of dramatic and emotional power.

Giacomo Puccini’s or Amadeus Mozart’s classic music will replace the referee’s whistle and the announcer’s inflated enthusiasm for a game that will soon be forgotten.

“Would I go to the opera?” Bradley Arnell, a third-grader at Davis Drive Elementary, asked himself last Monday. Well, it depends what’s on TV that night.” Some things may never change, but at Davis Drive Elementary, teachers are planting the seeds of refinement and attempting to sweeten the taste of opera to about 1,100 students at the school.

The elementary school is in the second year of its “So this is Opera” program and has invited back artist in residence Yvette Lewis for an eight-day lesson that will culminate in two evenings of student mini-operas.

Last year the program only included the third through fifth grades and was a big hit with staff and students. This year the school wanted to expand the program and enlisted PTA volunteer Jennifer Yasick.

Yasick’s Impressive grant writing skills brought in $2,100 from the Unite Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County, $3,000 from the NC arts Council and $500 that the school’s PTA chipped it. The $5,600 allowed the school to add all grades (K-5) to the program.

And when the time came to teach the students opera, Lewis, a lyric soprano who has performed in operas across the globe, was clearly in charge. Last Friday, Lewis, looking fit and poised in a brown suit (even after seven classes have passed through) stood behind a piano in the media center and firmly took over the room.

She told a group of third-graders about a Japanese girl named Madame Butterfly, who was jilted by her American lover. Well, she told the youngsters the G-rated version of the Puccini opera and then answered questions about the story.

Soon after, Lewis had the student singing the famous aria and plunking the xylophones in front of them.

“I know a lot of opera is inappropriate for children,” Lewis said. “So we whitewash some of it and they get the gist of the story. That makes opera accessible to them.”

Lewis, who is also teaching Mozart’s the magi Flute and The Marriage of Figaro along with Georges Bizet’s Carmen, said that she chooses operas with beautiful music for the students.

“I try to select operas with pretty music, she said. “It is easier for them to sing and remember.” Lewis, who is originally from Charlotte, has been teaching operas in schools up and down the east coast for 10 years and believes the program will help bring audiences back to the theater.

“Opera gets a bad rap because people do not understand it,” she said. “With this program we get to them before they are poisoned.”

For Arnell, who sang loudly throughout the lesion, the session changed his mind about opera.

“I had heard of it but I had never heard it before, ” he said. “I didn’t think it would be every good but it was pretty good. It was better than class.” Third-grader Emily Walukas, whose aunt is an opera singer in Michigan, is excited about seeing an opera someday, but not about singing in one. “I think I would rather play the instruments,” Walukas said.

The eight-day program will culminate in student performances this week. On March 30, third-graders will perform pieces from Madame Butterfly, fourth-graders will share selections from Carmen and fifth graders will perform parts of The Marriage of Figaro. The performances will be at the school from 6 to 7:30 p.m.


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