Opera Visits Ernest Ward and Carver/Century With Paintball And ‘Chuck Norris’

March 29, 2008


It was like DIY, build it yourself, fill in the blank opera Friday at Ernest Ward Middle School and Carver/Century K-8 School when the Pensacola Opera presented “(Your) Opera in a Trunk”.

The traveling opera minstrels hit the stage with little more than a backdrop, a small wardrobe and a trunk full of assorted props. After a musical introduction to each voice style — the soprano, mezzo, tenor and bass — the Joker begins the one of a kind show. The Joker, who is a cross between a storyteller and a game show host, leads the audience in choosing the star of the show, the character names and the plot for the improvised opera.

“Incorporating audience suggestions, spontaneity and chance, improvisational performance truly explores the unknown. No two performances are the same as no two audiences are alike. Improvisation is cutting edge art where not even the performers know quite what is around the next corner or how the show will end,” said David Charles, creator, writer and director of the opera.

operagunn.jpg“It was real exciting; it was not like I thought it was going to be,” Ernest Ward seventh grader Kaitlyn Gunn (pictured left) said. “I really liked it. I thought it was going to be boring, but it wasn’t.”

Students at Ernest Ward first decided where their opera would be set. They had a choice of a paintball field, a busy New York street or a deserted island. They picked the paintball field… the Chuck Norris Paintball Field to be exact. Singers then chose the names of two students in the audience as their character’s names…Isaac and Rachel.

They chose for Rachel to be paintball ninja over being Chuck Norris’ number one fan or an itchy gymnast. Isaac was cast as the Paintball Ninja of Chuck Norris Paintball Field.

Then students were given the opportunity to name their “(Your) Opera in a Trunk”, and the winning name was “Splat!”. The mezzo singer was cast as Nancy the Ninja, which was picked by the students over Petunia the Paintball Referee and “Chuck Norris as a lady”. The soprano was cast as Rachel the paintball cheerleader, who later saw a pickpocketing monkey. “No one knows…the monkey is my secret,” she sang.

In the end, good of course triumphs over evil. Along the way, the action stops for the Joker to explain various opera terms to the audience, terms like aria, libretto and cadenza. They learn to say “brava” to applaud a female performer and “bravo” for a male performer.

Because the opera is improvised, this was “the very first and the very last time ever in the world this opera will be presented,” the Joker Timothy Kennedy said. The Ernest Ward performance was also the last time this group of performers will hit the stage together. All of the them except the maestro (the pianist) are from out of town, places like New York City and Chicago. They have been performing together since January at schools across the region.

“The Pensacola Opera holds auditions in Des Moines, Iowa, and New York City for these performances,” Kennedy said. “Most of them end up here from the New York auditions.”

In the production at both Ernest Ward and Carver, the performers were : Anna Steenerson, soprano; Dawn Pierce, mezzo; Todd von Felker, bass; Zechariah Baker, tenor; and Melissa Gilbert, the maestro.

Baker told the students he began singing opera just four years ago. He was serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq when someone sent him a Three Tenors CD, and he found that he was able to sing in a similar fashion. His commanding officers encouraged him to sing more, and “I decided then to become an opera singer,” he said.

One EWMS students asked if an opera star could break a glass. Kennedy explained that it was possible, but very few singers were able to product the pitch necessary to do so.

Friday’s performances were sponsored by a variety of private businesses and groups like the National Endowment for the Arts, the Arts Council of Northwest Florida and the University of West Florida.

For more photos from both the Ernest Ward and Carver/Century performance of “(Your) Opera in a Trunk”, click here.

Pictured above: The performers in “(Your) Opera in a Trunk”. Pictured below: Students at Carver/Century K-8 enjoy the Pensacola Opera. Ernest Ward photos are NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge. Carver/Century photos were submitted by the school.



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