Good morning readers! It’s Day 11 – our final day of the 2015 Greater Colorado Tour. Today we’ll be doing a double bill of Hansel and Gretel for the students at Bauder Elementary School in Ft. Collins. As much as we’ve had happen in the past two-weeks, it’s still hard to believe that we’re already on the last day. Time… it just keeps rolling, doesn’t it? Breakfast consumed, we load the cars and head to the school. It’s raining again and is supposed to most of the day, so loading in will be a challenge. On the drive, the conversation turns to the intelligence quotient. You know, would you rather be intelligent and savvy about the world around you or would you rather be more naïve and not as aware of things? I know… way too deep for this early in the morning.
We arrive at the school and Brett and I head to the office to check-in. We’re immediately greeted by Deanna, the music teacher. She’s been waiting in the office to welcome us. She walks us down to the gym, where we’ll be performing and on the way, we’re greeted by more of the teachers. Everyone is so excited that we’re here. Looking around the gym, I may have to make some extra rules for today. There are far too many temptations within easy reach; jai alai weapons, balls of every size and bouncy-ness, hula hoops and more. Taylor and I move as many of the items out of the set up area as we can to lessen the temptation factor (and give us room for the set). It’s not the students I’m concerned about – it’s our group. We’re easily distracted. Andrew moves the van around to the load-in sight and we get things into the space as quickly as we can to avoid getting soaked. As the Young Artists get into costume and makeup, Taylor serenades us with various selections on the piano. The students begin to come in. For the first performance, we have 3rd-5th grades. They are being very quiet and respectful. I go out to do the pre-show talk and as soon as I say that we are here to perform Hansel and Gretel, there’s a room full of excited faces. The performance goes well and the students really enjoy it. There’s a lack of energy, but at this point on tour, it’s something to be expected. It’s early in the day and they have another performance to go, so saving a little in the tank is a good idea. For the Q&A, we get a young man who asks a very thoughtful question, “Why did you have a Witch in the story and not a Warlock.” He’s picked on up the fact that the Witch is sung by a man, so that question makes perfect sense. Brett answers by telling him the reasons that opera sometimes casts a man in a female role or female as a male character. There’s unanimous agreement that having the Witch sung by a tenor makes the character creepier and funnier at the same time.
We wave goodbye to the students and reset for the top of the show. As the re-set is happening, I talk with one of the teachers who is just gushing about the performance. She admits that she doesn’t like opera; that it’s always just been people screaming. I tell her if it sounds like screaming, then its opera being done wrong. She agrees with me and tells me how much she loved the show. Everyone’s voices were beautiful, the production was like a fairytale and everything just came to life for her. Hmm… we may have a new opera convert… Touring productions aren’t just for kids.
After everyone gets out of costume, we jump into the car and head to a local spot for a very quick lunch. We’ve got less than an hour before we need to be back for the second performance. At lunch, there’s very little talking. Sure the food is good, but it’s more than that. It is… technology. As I look around the table, just about everyone has their eyes glued to their phones. I don’t begrudge them that; we’ve been in the mountains for 2-weeks and had little to no reception. They have lives outside of opera after all. I haven’t missed it though. A break from the cyber world has been quite welcome. We finish lunch and head back to the school. There’s just enough time to get everyone back into costume before the second group of students arrive; this time we have Kindergarten – 2nd grade. They are adorable. Apparently today is pajama day!
This is a big school, so each performance is packed. I go out to do the pre-show talk and I can tell that we’ve got a very special group of kids. They are so excited, but so well-behaved too. As the performance begins, they are hanging on every word, every note. It’s almost as if they take a breath each time one of the singers does. As I sit backstage, I’m treated to hundreds of little voices shouting “bravo” after every number. Andrew, Daniel and Brett are inspired backstage as well. During the dance scene, they get their groove on. I stop giggling long enough to snap a picture. On stage, things continue to go well. The kids are so responsive. Leah and Katherine make their exit as Andrew sings his aria and Leah becomes very emotional. The kids have grabbed ahold of her heart (metaphor – go with me readers). She says that the little ones in the front were copying every dance move she made; clapping their hands, snapping their fingers, tapping their feet. Sometimes, during a live performance, there’s just a feeling in the air. Something happens that’s magical – you connect with your audience in a way that words can’t quite describe. That’s what we’ve got going on here and we all feel it. Daniel goes on for the Sandman scene and the kids are yawning along with Leah and Katherine. When Brett goes on as the Witch, the laughter in the room is contagious and we’re laughing backstage, listening to the kids respond. Daniel can’t resist and peaks through a gap in the set to watch the action unfold. Brett takes his cue from the energy in the room and plays the Witch as completely goofy. His rhyme today? “I’ll go inside and feed my pet llama; I hope you don’t mind, but I’m your new mama.” The kids are howling with laughter and this time, I can hear the teachers laughing too.
When I’m directing a show, I make choices based on what I think will appeal to an audience; try to tell the story and showcase the art form in a way that represents the truth of what opera is. I never really know if I’ve gotten it right until I put it in front of an audience. The way these kids are responding; we got it right. I wish that words could convey what it sounds like as the Young Artists take their bows. The students are cheering for them, standing up, calling “bravo” over and over; and the best part? Their joy at what they’ve experienced is completely genuine. It’s probably the best performance of Hansel and Gretel that the Young Artists have given all season. The final show on our tour – and it’s one I will remember for a very long time. We go out for the Q&A and, sadly, we’re only able to take 3 questions. There’s been a surprise visit from the superintendent and they have an award to present to one of the students. It’s a wonderful thing, but we would have liked to spend some more time answering the students’ questions – they were such a fabulous audience.
There’s an official presentation with multiple speakers and then there are numerous photos taken of the superintendent and the winner, on our set, so we have to wait to begin to take things down and load out. The teachers come backstage to tell us how much they enjoyed the show and ask us repeatedly to come back. Deanna, the music teacher, says that Opera Colorado’s program is something that her school highly values and she’ll be bringing us back for sure. We get to the business of loading out for the final time on tour. Everyone is tired, but the energy of the kids is still buzzing in our minds. Load out complete, we get in the cars and begin the drive back to Denver. Within minutes, everyone but the drivers and copilots are asleep.
We have one final stop on tour – it’s become something of a tradition to have the final stop of tour be a unique Colorado experience. In 2014, we stopped at the Coney Island Hot Dog stand in Bailey, Colorado. This year… it’s Johnson’s Corner for their world famous cinnamon rolls. Funny… they always seem to involve food. We sit at a booth the size of Rhode Island and I snap a picture of the group as they consider the volume of what they’re about to ingest. Daniel makes a toast to tour. It’s been a busy, challenging and incredibly rewarding two weeks. Cinnamon delights consumed, groans of the overly-indulgent in process, we make the final leg of our journey back to Denver.
That’s it readers. We’ve been on the road for 11 days. Traveled over 1,600 miles, been snowed in, on roads that go nowhere, attacked by bugs of unusual size and seen amazing sights. We’ve taken opera to more than 1,500 people. Tour is over… or is it? We’re actually not done with our travels. We have a performance in Colorado Springs on Wednesday. We couldn’t fit that into our official tour weeks; there were just too many requests that came in, so the Young Artists will be doing a day trip. I won’t be blogging about that one. My digits are fatigued. There’s more exciting news… You have a chance to hear the Young Artists in person one final time before they complete their residency with Opera Colorado. On Sunday, May 31st at 2:00PM, they will be singing their Farewell Concert. Tickets are available now and we hope to see you there. You can find more information about the performance here: 2015 Young Artists Farewell.
To those of you who have contacted me about the blogs, thank you for your support. We’re glad that you enjoy them. Rest assured, tour commentary will continue in 2016. Well beyond that we hope. Time keeps rolling… and so will we. All in the name of this incredible art that we love… opera.
Thanks for joining us on our journey.
Till next year,