Southern Vermont company presents opera

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(Host) Next week busloads of southern Vermont school kids will travel to the Weston Playhouse to attend the opera.

For the past seven winters the Opera Theatre of Weston has been introducing young audiences to this musical art.

VPR’s Susan Keese went backstage for a preview and reports that this year’s opera, Ravel’s The Child and the Magic,’ speaks to kids in many ways.

(Keese) First of all, it opens with a scene any active child will find familiar: an argument between a boy and his mother over homework. The mother scolds and storms out of the nursery. Alone, the boy explodes into a tantrum.

Exulting that he’s wicked and doesn’t care, he lashes out, breaking things and ripping up his homework.

Twenty-year-old soprano Lora Rachel Davidson plays the child. She’s a former student of Vermont vocalist Lise Messier, the company’s co-founder and co-artistic director.

Davidson says the child feels pretty good about his tantrum at first.

(Davison) And he sits down he’s all triumphant and he goes to sit in the chair and then all of a sudden the chair starts moving and then the chair comes alive and starts talking about how he’s going to get rid of the small child.

(Keese) The transformation of arm chairs into talking, dancing, somewhat menacing beings is only the beginning.

One by one the objects in the child’s room come to life and sing of how the child has harmed them.

The second act is full of animals — neon frogs, courting cats and dancing dragonflies– as the child seeks refuge in the moonlit garden.

He leans against a tree he’s gouged with a knife earlier in the day.

( Gooch) It never stops… so it’s great for a child’s mind that flits from one thing to the next. As soon as they finish with one thing something else is coming to life.

(Keese) Alison Gooch is the opera’s musical director and pianist. Gooch teaches young vocalists at Tanglewood in the summer.

She says the Weston company is unique because it mixes current Vermont music and dance students with young professionals.

She says this opera is especially engaging.

( Gooch) I think a lot of people also — adults even — are sort of afraid of opera. They think it’s very stuffy. We don’t always hear these kinds of clips from these kinds of operas that are fun and experimental with sound and vocal techniques.

(Keese) It’s also full of movement. 21-year-old dancer Ashley Hensel-Browning choreographed the show. She says the music by Ravel is challenging but rewarding.

(Hensel-Browning) And the story itself is important for kids. It’s about how we make mistakes and do things that we may regret sometimes, but how we have the opportunity to be redeemed.

(Keese) Redemption happens after the animals accost the child. A squirrel is hurt in the fracas. The boy binds its paw and the animals realize that the child is also capable of kindness.

But the child is also hurt. So the animals help him call his mother.

Ashley-Hensel-Browning has danced in many Weston productions. She says the best part is the way the kids in the audience leave the theater — gleeful, crooning, and full of awe.

For VPR Backstage, I’m Susan Keese.

(Host) A public showing of The Child and the Magic’ and Mozart’s The Impressario’ will take place on Sunday. Next week students from 36 Vermont schools will be bused in for the opera by Ravel. See the VPR website for details.

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