Though you may think opera is an art form only for sophisticated audiences, UConn Opera proved that this approach to storytelling is suitable even for the youngest minds. Its showing of “Little Red Riding Hood” on Friday evening in von der Mehden entertained children and adults alike.
The most interesting aspect of the production was Director Dr. Spencer Reese’s decision to allow children in the audience to help produce the show. Reese said that when he goes into schools to teach children about opera, he often gets questions about how opera tells a story, and he wanted children present to experience it firsthand. He promised that they would be able to create “the show you want to see.”
Reese had a multitude of choices for young audience members to make. From Little Red’s dress to her mother’s wig, and from Granny’s curtains to the way in which the Wolf said one of his lines, Reese’s “co-producers” as he called them decided on many aspects of the production.
While they couldn’t make lighting choices, Reese explained to the children how lighting designs are put together. He said that children and their families would be able to go to the back of the theater during intermission and ask the lighting designer how her board functioned.
Before taking a break for intermission, Reese said that families could come up after the show to meet the singers in costume. With that offer, Reese began to decorate the set with the children’s choices as families moved about and waited for the show to begin.
“I think the interactivity was really awesome,” LeeAnn Ducat, a mom from Woodstock who brought her kids to the opera, said. “The kids seemed to really enjoy it, it engaged them and got them excited and looking forward to the production.”
“It hasn’t even started yet, and we’re having a blast,” Michelle Sigfridson, Ducat’s seat neighbor and a mom from Windham who also brought her children to the show, said.
Once the lights went down, singer Greg Flower took the stage as the Wolf. Before really getting into character, Flower sat down at a desk and acted like the woods the story would take place in could be scary. He put on his wolf mask and asked the children to promise not to be frightened no matter what happened in the story.
Flower opened the opera with a powerful song describing the Wolf’s character. After singing about his goal of finding and eating Little Red Riding Hood, he left the stage as the title character and her mother came on.
Grace Carver played Little Red’s Mother and gave the impression that she was strict yet protective and loving of her daughter. At the same time, Kodylynn Perkins played Little Red and portrayed her as a curious and playful yet forgetful young girl. The two showcased their characters’ relationship in a song where Mother nags Little Red and the young girl responds with “Yes, Mother” to all of her requests.
The story proceeds as usual: Little Red meets the Wolf, the Wolf invades Granny’s home and Little Red momentarily mistakes the Wolf for her grandmother (also played by Carver).
The actors were talented and gave great singing performances. They worked well with each other and were alternately funny, scary and celebratory.
Of course, the production ended on a happy note. Little Red rid the house of the Wolf by taunting him with strawberries, which give him a stomachache. A friendly woodsman (also played by Flower) eliminated the Wolf once and for all before again reminding Little Red to listen to her mother.
The singers’ performance was rewarded with a standing ovation from the audience. Many thought that the opera was cute, and parents liked how it engaged its young audience.
“I was here with my wife and my four-year-old daughter,” Greg Svetz, a Mansfield resident, said. “It was a lot of fun, it was more fun than I expected as a grown-up, and Miriam, my daughter, really liked it as well.”
Stephanie Santillo is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.