Monday, January 05, 2009

Cosi Fan Tutte and other Saucy Tales of the Kindergarten

When I was in the 3rd, 4th or 5th grade (can't really remember), we went on a fieldtrip to the New York Metropolitan Opera where we were given a guided tour of the wig shop, costume closets and stage trap doors. I don't remember if I was mesmerized. I remember being creeped out by the wigs which were made of human hair. I'm sure that it has some bearing on my post elementary school musical pursuits which included a year in highschool learning about the different types of sopranos and contraltos and whathaveyou. But mesmerized by the opera at 10? Probably not.

So what happened today came as a welcome yet jarring surprise.

I'm out of tricks as a theater teacher. At our school, we teach the same kids for three years, in mixed grade classes which means that I have to develop curriculum that is not repeated from year to year and flexible so that it reaches both the new students who know nothing and the older students who know EVERYTHING. We've done it all at this point. Chinese Shadow Puppets, Set Design and construction, Musicals, Songwriting, Neighborhood paper bag puppet interviews, concerts, plays, lighting design, costume design, vocal exploration, emotions and acting, storytelling, african drumming, pantomime, dance combinations, blah blah blah. I'm grasping at straws for January and February so I thought I would take the easy route and just do something that I'm interested in but which might be really boring for the kids. OPERA.

Today, we talked about the difference between a straight play, a musical and opera. I busted out a few notes from some italian art songs that I learned ages ago. They plugged their ears, wrinkled their noses and said, "noisy!" This was to be expected. I even heard a few of the younger ones mumbling in Korean, "musicals are NOT fun. Boring!" I told them that I was going to show them an aria from "The Magic Flute" by Mozart. Did they know who Mozart was? All the hands shot up. YES! Then it started. A small boy who looks like a cross between Hansel and Gretel (if H&G were asian) with a perm began to hum the tune to "The Queen of the Night's Revenge Aria". You know, the high, twisty, flutey coloratura that makes you heave your diaphragm in sympathy?

I turned on my heels.

"M, are you singing the "Queen of the Night's Revenge?"

He smiled sweetly and said, "Yes." like it was the dumbest thing I had ever asked. Of course he was. Of course. And then I showed the other kids and they were RIVETED. Glued to the floor and the computer screen. "Again teacher! again!" "Why does that queen want to kill that man, sorastro?" "It sounds like screaming! A screaming flute or violin!"

After they couldn't get enough Magic Flute, I showed them a little scene from "Cosi Fan Tutte" which I had seen in Philadelphia in college. They loved it! "More! I want to watch the whole thing!" "Do the girls kiss the boys?" I finally turned it off when Ferrando began to cop a feel with Dorabella during the "fidelity test" in act two. But they weren't satisfied. I turned my back and someone clicked the screen and Mozart flooded the classroom. They worked quietly on their worksheets then, listening and absorbing this opera quartet's baudy little game in Italian.

Who knew? Now I just have to get up the energy to harvest this little crop of opera enthusiasts. Being a teacher is so rewarding and so positively's to a little more Mozart and a little less B.S. (that's Britney Spears).


Super Nova said...

Amen sister friend. I just spent a day talking about Communism, Capitalism, and Objectivsm...all WITH a sense of humor.

Even so much as to encourage the kids to say "Bolshevik" instead of "Bullshit" for added flavor to their conversations.

Super Nova said...

Just try it--"That's a bunch of Bolshevik"

Marianne & Clayton said...

Brilliant. In 15 to 20 years when we would expect another crop of genius-programmers from Korea,(sorry for the stereotype) we will instead have a crop of genius Jonathan Larsen/Michael Nyman types flooding the theaters. And we will have you to thank. Good work.