downtownexpress.com
Volume 19 | Issue 30 | December 8 - 14, 2006

Downtown Express photos by Elisabeth Robert

Jing Wang practices putting wrinkles on Kufi Bedminister for I.S. 89’s upcoming performance of their own opera.

Aria over recess, middle schoolers try opera

By Priya Idiculla

The Hudson River Opera Company is full of carpenters, composers, writers, electricians, and performers, and all of them are in the seventh grade at I.S. 89.

The class has written an opera called “Parallel Perspectives,” about the age of exploration. The students based their opera on a culmination of their social studies curriculum.

The idea itself is not new to I.S. 89. Literacy teacher Christina Delouise said the school has already done three previous operas.

“Well it’s not a true opera like how it’s traditionally done, but we call it one,” said Delouise, referring to the fact that not all of the opera will be in a professional libretto.

“It’s kind of hard to sing everything in the script,” said Gabriella Marino, one of the student production managers. “Only some parts will be like that so it will be easier to perform.”

Delouise said I.S. 89 students have been participating in other productions, including operas, for the past five years. Previous opera topics have included Lewis and Clarke, the American Revolutionary War, and age of exploration, all topics from their social studies class.

Each subject teacher in the seventh grade was assigned a facet of production. Math teacher Yelena Berdichevsky supervised the carpenters. Social studies teacher Marc Todd supervised the composers, set/makeup/costume design, and opera documentation. Delouise, who teaches literacy, supervised public relations, writers, and historical documentation. Science teacher Lori Lipsky supervised the electricians.

“All the teachers’ subjects have come together to support the social studies curriculum,” Delouise said.

Vincent Jessel practices keyboard with Stetson Miller while the props department works away.

The students have been working on the production since early November and had to apply for jobs and send in work samples to secure the positions they have for the performance. After Thanksgiving, they started the roles they applied for and were assigned.

The students worked with professionals to further their production. The writers worked with professors from Columbia University to help them develop their story ideas. Kisa Schell, one of the student writers for the opera said, “We went through our thoughts, and then through drafts, and then to an edit, and then to another edit, and then another edit.”

Deirdre Flyn, a professional actor who is working with the acting troupe to bring the story alive on stage, has been impressed by the students’ hard work and dedication. “It’s all been a very organic process from the beginning to now,” she said.

Seventh grader Delia Andros said she enjoyed seeing a history lesson come to life, especially with acting involved. “I’ve been to the opera already and it’s really great to see the music and the script come together right now,” she said.

Simon Chan said the production has opened his eyes to this other form of expression. “I am more interested in operas now,” Chan said. “The music is important; I play the violin so I like that. It’s just really fun.”

“Everyone knows how operas are but this is really different because kids are doing it,” said student Ellen Swanson.

Although there are those in the acting troupe that have performed before, there are also newcomers who are excited about their debuts. William Mooney will be playing an Algonquin chief.

“This will be my first time on the stage,” Mooney said. “I’ve done productions before, but I was usually the backstage help.”

Some members of the other production details were shocked to see their lessons from a book come to life.

“It’s been kind of weird looking at what they used to wear compared to what we wear now,” said Sabrina Feinman, a student costume designer. “It’s so old fashioned compared to modern stuff!”

The students are excited about their upcoming performances. They seem to understand most of all what their description of Parallel Perspectives in the press release means: “What happens when two cultures come together.”

“In the end we all depend on each other and it’s great to see everything and all of us come together,” Schell said.

“Parallel Perspectives” is woven from the history of the French explorer Samuel de Champlain, who forged tight bonds with the Algonquin Indians against their rivals the Iroquois and for whom Lake Champlain is named.

It will be performed in the 2nd floor auditorium at I.S. 89 located at 201 Warren St. (at West St.). The performances are Dec.12 at 10:30 a.m., Dec.13 at 10:30 am and 7 p.m., and Dec.14 at 10:30 a.m. and are all free admission.

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