Children’s Operas

Since 2015, I have directed or participated in children’s opera productions either as a singer, director, or coordinator. Florida State gave me the opportunity to perform in The Stolen Princess (based on Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte), Hansel & Gretel, and Little Red Riding Hood while coordinating tours in 2016 and directing Beatrice & Benedict in 2017. That work has continued at the Indianapolis Opera where I directed The Not-So Ugly Duckling and The Three Little Hoosier Pigs by Briana Sosenheimer. These operas are part of a pivotal strategy to develop the next generation of audiences, in addition to inspiring children to pursue their passion in music, performance, art, or production. The productions I describe below are part of my directed works, and offer insight into the creation/adaptation process behind each piece.

Beatrice and Benedict (Feb. 2017)

Adapter / Director

“Should I come out of my shell and say this is who I am? I think it’s a human anxiety and I wanted to provide a platform for these students to see that it is OK.
— Matt Cooksey, interview with The Tallahassee Democrat

Beatrice and Benedict: Performance & Production Credits

Producer: Matthew Lata & FSU Opera Outreach

Music director: Minji Nam

Set designer: Grant Preisser

Beatrice: Emily Howes/Shenika John Jordan

Benedict: Samuel Mathis/Luke Barnard

Hero: Savannah Hirst/Camden McLean

Claudio: Titus Muzi/Noah Nethery

Ursula: Katherine Kincaid/Elena Maeurer

Peter: Evan Nelson/Mark Spang

Work on Beatrice and Benedict began during the summer of 2016, as I looked for shows that would be appropriate to produce for FSU's Opera Outreach tour for middle schoolers. Not surprisingly, this seems to be a noticeable audience segment for which composers haven't written much.

What attracted me to the piece were several factors: a fun, French score by Berlioz, a Shakespearian-based plot, and strong central characters that had a sense of humor. When I pitched this to my producer, I originally envisioned a hipster-style wedding weekend for Hero and Claudio that Beatrice and Benedict were ruining with their antics. He, instead, pushed me to make the piece more directly reflect the lives of middle/high schoolers in the production.

I began the adapting process once I knew what my scenario was. Due to the specificity of the location/period, I couldn't directly use much of the original libretto or Shakespeare. I had to find ways of making clever adjustments to the plot and characters, while including occasional winks to the source material. The soldiers became basketball players (with a Warrior logo), a wedding became a homecoming-like ceremony, and the 'wine of Syracuse' had to go for obvious reasons.

One of the biggest changes I made to the characterization was changing Hero from the meek and innocent character that she is in the play and opera into a egomaniacal control-freak as she appears in this production. By doing this, it helped provide the necessary fuel to propel the events of the story, and make it clear to our audience that she was not okay yielding the spotlight.

The production received a fair amount of local coverage, including videos from a news station and the county school system, and an interview in the local paper.

Ultimately, this production was an important stepping stone for me. It was the first time I worked with Grant Preisser in a director/designer context, and the first instance working with double cast rehearsals. More importantly, it helped me share my belief in the necessity of kindness, truthfulness, and living without fear of judgment.

The Not-So Ugly Duckling (Fall 2018)

Editor / Director

The Not-So Ugly Duckling was one of two operas written by Briana Sosenheimer for the Indianapolis Opera. The opera places the story of The Ugly Duckling in a school setting to demonstrate the danger and cruelty of bullying. Sosenheimer chose a variety of composers and arias to adapt for this new pastiche, featuring music by Handel, Mozart, Bizet, Verdi, and Johann Strauss, Jr. I made some small alterations to her original staging and script, but Sosenheimer gave us great material to work with. The kids all agreed that the highlight scene was the food fight between Lucky, Don, and Juliet.

We were also afforded the opportunity to work with the Boys and Girls Club of Indianapolis during an eight-week residency. Throughout our visits, we inserted the children into the show as fellow ducks, and helped to teach them about music literacy, instrumentation, stage movement, and partner work through a series of conversations and games. We were very happy to see how much they enjoyed the games and learning along with us, and they put on a very cute performance for their families and friends at the end of our visit with them.

The Not-So Ugly Duckling Performance & Production Credits

Producer: Indianapolis Opera

Pianist: Jeeson Eun

Set designer: Briana Sosenheimer

Don: Michael Colman

Juliet: Emily Spencer

Mr. Basilio: Kevin Adamik

Lucky: Anne Slovin

 

The Three Little Hoosier Pigs (Spring 2019)

director/Editor/Costume Design

Sosenheimer’s first children’s opera for Indianapolis tells the tale of The Three Little Pigs, with lots of Hoosier flare. Larry “Bird” Pig is a basketball wannabe who just wants to play around, while Susie is enamored with showchoir. Their brother, Frederic, maintains a farm for the family and finds that he’s the only responsible guy in the group.

Susie and Bird put off building a house, which leaves them in danger with a wolf lurking about. The wolf initially comes to them in sheep’s clothing, boasting how she can help design their homes. As soon as they’ve let their guards down, the wolf springs her trap, but the pigs are able to run away. Susie is able to join Frederic in his brick house, while Bird makes a flimsy home out of cut-out basketball photos. The Wolf is able to finally trap Bird once again, but discovers that the pigs are not to her taste. While she smells something tasty in the air, the pigs discover that the Wolf is more interested in the vegetables on their farm rather than the bacon on their backs. With an understanding that the Wolf will leave them unharmed in return for some crops, the Pigs are able to celebrate as a family once again.

The Three Little Hoosier Pigs Performance & Production Credits

Producer: Indianapolis Opera

Pianist: Dasom Kwon

Set design: Briana Sosenheimer

Larry “Bird” Pig: Zachary Angus

Frederic Pig: Brandon Evans

Susie Pig: Therese Pirçon

The Big Bad Wolf: Lauren Carter

Photos by Roger David Manning