Greg Jebaily of Florence, S.C., plays Don Giovanni Pig in Opera Iowa’s “The Three Little Pigs” performed for Kuemper kindergartners through fifth-graders.
Greg Jebaily of Florence, S.C., plays Don Giovanni Pig in Opera Iowa’s “The Three Little Pigs” performed for Kuemper kindergartners through fifth-graders.
March 25, 2013

Wolfgang Bigbad may be scary, but opera shouldn't be.

Last week Des Moines Metro Opera's educational touring troupe, Opera Iowa, visited Kuemper Catholic Grade School and not only sang the praises of opera but also had many enthusiastic fans in their young crowd. The troupe led a workshop for fourth- and fifth-graders on what goes into presenting a show and then performed a version of "The Three Little Pigs" that combines music from the 18th-century composer genius Mozart with lyrics from John Davies, who's turned numerous children's stories into operas with the gol of making opera fun and accessible to children.

The Opera Iowa performers said they wanted to knock down stereotypes of opera being long, loud, boring and difficult to understand.

The students' response to "The Three Little Pigs" indicated that the troupe succeeded by more than the hair of their chinny-chin-chins.

Early Tuesday afternoon, fourth- and fifth-graders from the St. Angela Center attended a workshop on elements that go into a show - costumes, props, makeup, lighting and stage sets. Later, kindergartners through fifth-graders filled the Holy Spirit Center gym for "The Three Little Pigs."

The John Davies version puts a different twist on the folktale from what children have heard.

A description of the show says, "It's time for a sister and her two brother pigs to go out into the world, seek their fortunes and make homes of their own. Despina Pig is far wiser than either Don Giovanni Pig or Cherubino Pig. She goes to the library to learn all about sturdy house construction. Her brothers, however, are too busy playing games and inviting danger from the local wolf, Wolfgang Bigbad. The moment of truth comes as the pigs are chased from straw house to stick house to Despina Pig's solid brick house. Wolfgang suffers a hard fall through the chimney but is well enough to join the pigs in a final song that praises the value of libraries for everyone."

Wolfgang Bigbad draws his name as a tribute to the music composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Following the show, Amedee Moore, an Opera Iowa soprano from Dayton, Ohio, said, "What they just heard was one of our most famous composers, and they're going to remember it."

She said the Opera Iowa troupe, which will perform throughout Iowa from January through mid-April, loves visiting schools.

"We love hearing their laughter. We love hearing their reaction. And they were excited about it," Moore said.

She said she hopes the Kuemper students were instilled with an appreciation and enthusiasm to get involved in the arts.

"I'd love that they feel they can be involved in art-making because it can be a huge part of life," Moore said.

Members of the Iowa Opera troupe here were all in their mid- to late 20s. Besides Moore they featured Andrea Shokery, soprano from Gahanna, Ohio; Robert Lilly, tenor from Houston, Texas; Greg Jebaily, baritone from Florence S.C.; Tzu-Hwa Ho, from Taiwan, music director; and Jessica Rechin, from Buffalo, N.Y., technical director.

Moore says, "The cool thing about opera, the reason I think I got into it, is I get to play. I get to play and pretend for the rest of my life. And they (students) understand pretend."

In question-and-answer with students following the show, troupe members touted opera for allowing them to express deep emotion in their performances.

A sampling of comments from Kuemper fifth-graders indicates Opera Iowa succeeded here with its goals to entertain and inspire appreciation:

Anna Niehaus, said, "My favorite part of the workshop was when they told us all about how they prepare for an opera show. They put makeup on Lexie (fifth-grader Lexie Davis) and Austin (fourth-grader Austin Baumhover). The main lesson I learned from the opera was to use the library to learn new things and for any questions I have. I also learned not to bully - like Wolfgang Bigbad did. My favorite part of the opera was watching Wolfgang Bigbad act like a statue in front of the Three Pigs."

Peyton Higby said, "In my workshop I loved learning how they put an opera together. They showed us all the things they need, like the lights, makeup, costumes and props. In the opera I liked how they told us a story and taught us a lesson, but they did it by singing about it."

Bethany Schleisman commented, "My favorite part of the workshop was seeing how a person becomes a certain character just by using a costume, makeup, wigs and props.

I thought the opera was funny, but we also learned not to bully our brothers and sisters or anyone else. The opera singers had great voices."

Kuemper elementary school vocal-music teacher Becca Fiscus said she hopes the troupe's visit "opens minds that opera can be silly, fun and enjoyable to everyone."

Opera Iowa also visited IKM-Manning School last week.

Besides the school visits, Opera Iowa also offers community performances of the romantic comedy "The Elixir of Love."