GREENSBURG – Greensburg Elementary School students hooted, screamed and laughed out loud Thursday morning as the French Chef chased after Mean Queen Esmerelda to prevent her from handing a poisoned apple to Snow Drift, great granddaughter of the famous Snow White.
School officials said the performance by four singers and their accompanist from the Indianapolis Opera exposed children to music they do not often hear and conveyed important lessons about diversity, tolerance and kindness.
The performance included songs of famous operas, including “The Barber of Seville,” by Gioacchino Rossini, “Die Fledermaus” by Johann Strauss and “The Pirates of Penzance” by Gilbert and Sullivan. Lyrics of the songs had been altered to fit the presentation’s theme.
The story borrowed parts of the Snow White tale but updated it to the modern era, so that, for example, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” became “iPad, iPad in my hand, who’s the fairest of the land.” Performers also worked into the story such traditionally opera-incongruent items as a giant Converse All-Star boot, hot dogs and former Secretary of State Madeline Albright.
Early in the second performance of the morning, about 200 children sat on the gymnasium floor as the Mean Queen Esmerelda, played by mezzo-soprano Meaghan Sands, revealed her plot to get rid of the beautiful Snow Drift (soprano Rachel Sparrow) by sending her on a mission into a dangerous forest.
Though the Queen sent her on a long walk, Snow Drift did not despair, in part because she had brought the right shoes. “It’s a good thing I brought my Converse All-Stars,” she said, pointing at her black-and-white sneakers. Shoes played a significant role later in the performance when the children learned about the metaphor of walking in someone else’s shoes.
The Queen’s plot to get rid of her rival is foiled when Snow Drift finds the Inn of the Seven Dwarves, where she meets all manner of interesting people, including the French Chef (tenor Joseph Diehl), the Landscaper (Sands) and the Inn’s proprietor, Boss, and the Italian Maid (both played by baritone Adam Piper). The performers were accompanied on electronic keyboard by Miyeon Choi.
The musicians are part of the Indianapolis Opera’s young artist career development program, which “provides a wide variety of performance opportunities as well as training for its resident company,” according to indyopera.org.
At the local elementary school, performers talked, gestured and sang in front of a canvas backdrop, which displayed blue skies, white clouds and rolling green hills and which also served as curtain behind which some of the performers changed costumes.
Diehl, who wore a chef’s apron and hat, performed his role with a French accent, while Piper’s Boss, who had donned jeans and a giant hat, spoke in a Southern Drawl and initially had trouble understanding the Chef. Boss said that he does not like anything that is not American, but he soon realized that if he makes an effort, he can learn to appreciate people who are different even when he cannot understand them completely.
He also learned that many things which he thought were American, are not, including pizza and spaghetti (Italian), nachos (Mexican) and hot dogs (German.)
When the Queen poisons an apple to give to Snow Drift, and the Boss is about to take a bite, the French Chef saves him, and Boss realizes that he has been mean to the Chef for no good reason.
“I’m going to be nice to people who are different from me,” the Boss pledged, before the performers launched into a song about the how America is strong and interesting not in spite of but precisely because it is a mosaic of people from many cultures. The tune mentions Italian shoes and cars from Korea and Japan, especially fitting in a community in which the largest employer is Honda.
As the Boss promised to turn his Inn into a place where people can learn about different cultures, Snow Drift told the students that people need to help one another, and that they need to give people a chance and to remember that even if people speak a different language, they can communicate in other ways, such as a smile.
After the kids eagerly answered questions from Snow Drift at the end of the performance, they asked about how old the performers are, how they changed costumes so quickly and who made the giant Converse boot.
The kids seemed to enjoy the performance, shrieking with delight during the more action-packed segments, though some of the students also covered their ears with their hands when Sparrow, the soprano, hit some of her high notes.
Tiffani Gramman, 6, said she liked all of the characters, while Jase McQueary, 6, said he liked the Chef because of his accent. Gavin Powers, 7, said he liked the Boss, “because I’m a country kid, too.”
While some of the kids in Jo Ann Meyer’s first grade class enjoyed the costumes and the chase, Malerie Gray, 8, said she enjoyed the message, that all the characters could be friends no matter from where they came.
Meyer and fellow teachers Tiffany Rice and Sherry Dunn said the show’s theme of tolerance fit in well with the school’s curriculum.
“The kids were glued to the show,” Meyer said.
“It was extremely engaging for our students,” Rice agreed.
Dunn said the performers made the show very interesting, so that students learned valuable lessons while having fun.
The performers, too, said they enjoyed their visit and the opportunity to bring music that the children hardly ever hear.
“I thought that this was a well-behaved audience,” said Diehl, the tenor. “They were great. It was a lot of fun.”
The singers’ visit is paid through the Parent Teacher Organization.
“It’s a just a good experience for our kids,” said assistant principal Ed Daihl.
More information about the artists: indyopera.org/young-artists.html.
Contact: Boris Ladwig 812-663-7401; firstname.lastname@example.org