Alta View Elementary in Sandy was recently overrun by swarms of various insects . . . and everybody loved it.
The occasion was the presentation of an original opera created by the students of the school's drama club, with support from Utah Opera Company. It proved to be a fine example of how an arts organization can have a positive impact within the educational community.Text for "Joyful Noise" came from a Newbery Award-winning book of poetry by Paul Fleishman that brings nonsensical life to such ordinarily icky bugs as grasshoppers, crickets, moths and water striders. These particular bugs were downright lovable in their colorful and creative costumes, as they sang and danced.
Though the students had help in creating the music from composer John Costa, whose services were provided by Utah Opera Company, they felt plenty of ownership in the unique result.
Michael Steele, a worker bee, described a process in which the students sang to Costa the tunes they wanted for the poems, and worked with him "until he got it right." Costa then created full musical arrangements around the students' ideas. "We got to help make up the music, and the choreography, and design the costumes, too," Steele said. "It was a lot of work, but it ended up as a great accomplishment, and we all loved it and had a great time."
"Joyful Noise" is a result of participation in Utah Opera's "Music! Words! Opera!" summer workshop by two of the school's teachers, Jennifer Edwards and Gayle Schul-er. The student opera culminated a long process of preparing both performers and audience.
Students in the drama club visited Utah Opera Company's produc-tion studios, where they learned about costuming, set design and the many other disciplines that are a part of the operatic art. They also got a backstage tour at Capitol Theatre before viewing the dress rehearsal of UOC's production of Gounod's opera, "Romeo and Juliet."
Additionally, the entire student body of Alta View was treated to operatic performances through the UOC's opera-in-the-schools program. Because the students had been prepared for the experience, they were an attentive and enthusiastic audience for the opera created by their classmates.
Teacher Jennifer Edwards found that preparation for the production, which was done entirely during after-school hours, was tiring and time-consuming but ultimately worthwhile. "The children saw the process from the ground up. They each developed specific abilities, and found that opera gave them many directions to pursue."
According to Paula Fowler, director of education and community outreach for the opera company, this production is only one of several works-in-progress in the state. Having seen how charming an opera about bugs can be, one can only anticipate with glee the thoughts of upcoming operas on the subjects of animals in search of habitats and - what else? - the lives of Barbie and Ken.