Magical instruments. A wicked queen. An imprisoned princess. A courageous prince. Will Prince Tamino’s magic flute be enough to protect him on his quest to save the lovely Princess Pamina? So begins the ultimate adventure opera, Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”
Through the generosity of an anonymous donor, who began attending the opera with parents at a young age, the love of opera is being passed on to island children.
On April 10, 184 students, teachers and parents from eight island schools attended this year’s opera performed by the Boston Lyric Opera. Schools from Matinicus, Isle au Haut, Frenchboro, Monhegan, Long, Chebeague, Cliff and Peaks islands took part.
For more than 10 years, the Island Institute has coordinated the logistics involved in an exciting opportunity for island students, teachers and parents to attend a children’s opera at Westbrook High School, just west of Portland.
Due to distance and ferry schedules, it’s not easy for some of the participants to get there and back. For example, Matinicus has only one boat a month in the winter, so those participants have to fly off and back onto the island. Several teachers turn the experience into a multi-day adventure and take their students to museums, ball games and activities not readily available on their islands. Island Institute staff spend weeks in advance arranging much of the transportation, meals and lodging.
The opera is performed in English, in an abridged one-hour format, and is fully staged with colorful sets and costumes.
When students were asked about their favorite part of the opera, some seemed to be very impressed by the costumes and the sets.
Dalton Lee Burroughs of Monhegan School, a first-time opera attendee, said, “My grandmother was a costume maker and I really liked the costumes in this opera.”
Maddie Stavenger, a fifth-grader at the Isle au Haut school agreed, saying,
“I really liked the birds, because their feathers were really cool. I also liked the set; it was really colorful.”
Other children especially enjoyed the story. Dylan Lunt, who is in grade six at the Frenchboro School, liked one particular scene, “when the bird man and the warlock/wizard meet and they are terrified of each other.”
The teachers also enjoyed the opera, and were excited about bringing classical music and theater to their students.
Doug Finn, a new teacher on Frenchboro, said, “One of the things I enjoyed was watching the crowd during the actual performance and seeing all the kids giggling and laughing. When they saw the kissing, they got a little bashful. It was really a good experience to see these kids enjoying the music.”
Andy Whitaker, the Monhegan Island Fellow, teaches music at the school there and remarked, “I enjoyed it because we are studying Mozart and classical music. It gave the kids a chance to hear the music and experience it live.”
For the youngest attendees, it was a magical, breathtaking hour and they were at somewhat of a loss to describe their reactions. One student, six-year-old Bradley Lenfesty of Frenchboro was asked what he liked best about his very first opera, and his answer was simply, “Dragon”.
Sally Perkins is the Island Institute’s program events coordinator. For more information on the Institute’s work in island and coastal schools, please visit http://islandinstitute.org/priorities and click on Schools/Education.