How do strangers become friends? How does conflict get resolved? What are the actions that show kindness? How do you change “we got you” moments to “we’re listening in order to understand you” moments? These were the questions we explored as we created our own original opera.
THE PROJECT: Creating and producing an original opera.
Students at Hubbard Woods School in Winnetka, IL used their general understandings of mid nineteenth-century European immigration to create a historical fiction story set as an opera. Using a model & curriculum from the Metropolitan Opera Guild (Creating Original Opera), they formed a production company: Production Managers, Stage Managers, Electricians, Set Designers, Costume Designers, Public Relations Team, Historians, Composers and Performers. What began with practical and small questions led the students to ask deeper questions along the way, to “apply for” jobs they were interested in, and come together as a production team for a week-long intensive Opera Week, with our performance on a Friday afternoon. While each job in the opera company could have its own blog entry, we will focus on 2 jobs in particular:
The writers began a process of developing five characters with a 3+2 model of adjectives. 3 positive attributes and 2 negative. From there we fleshed out the general relationships people with these characteristics would have. As they unpacked the relationships of their original main characters, they realized that what was at the heart of their story wasn’t immigration, but something deeper – the connections strangers have to each other. Journey to Kindness is a story of 5 immigrant children from Europe in the 1800s who begin as strangers, but end up as friends.
The composers started out being the entire 4th grade. Everyone explored ways to compose melodic motifs for each of the 5 characters, using information from the writers “hot off the press.” Our small group of composers selected one motif for each character from all ideas submitted, composed 2 songs and a lot of incidental music. They accompanied everything on classroom and stringed instruments. The distinction of opera vs. musical for this project is that the songs advance the story and cannot be removed if the story is to make sense. Our examples:
Student Production Managers saw that everyone was focused and meeting deadlines. Stage Managers supported stage direction and called out lighting and scenery cues. Electricians created a lighting plan. Set Designers made simple, moveable set pieces. Costume Designers designed and sewed original fashion accessories for the entire company. The Public Relations Team wrote press releases, designed a logo and printed programs. Historians photographed and videoed the entire process. The performers performed and the composers accompanied on various percussion and stringed instruments. A little more can be found here.