Middleburg Elementary Students Receive a Taste of the Opera


(Monday, April 9, 2007 7:44 AM EDT)

If you believe opera is just for adults, think again.

With the help of the Virginia Opera Company, Middleburg Elementary School's fifth-graders recently brought down the house with an operatic production of “Cinderella.”

The students started rehearsing the modern retelling of “Cinderella” in February with music teacher Wendy Testa, but only had two hours to put the whole show together with the opera company before performing it for the school.

“It's exciting seeing it when the opera company gets here,” Testa said. “They work with the students until they blossom.”

This is the sixth year that the Virginia Opera Company has brought its residency program to the school. Since the fifth-graders are the oldest students in the school, they are chosen to participate in the production.

“They love it,” fifth-grade teacher Roxanne Slater said. “They prepare, and they work really hard.”

“It's wonderful to be involved with kids,” said “Cinderalla” music director Cherie Roe. “This is the age when they learn about, and fall in love with, the arts.”

The decision to have students work with the company stemmed from principal Gary Wilkers' desire to have a participatory and arts-focused assembly each year.

“I don't think many students have the chance to see an opera, let alone be in one,” Wilkers said. “This is one way to expose them to this special art.”

Although the students didn't sing with operatic technique, (voice experts suggest that singers wait until they are around 13 years old to receive training in a formal vocal technique like opera), they joined Virginia Opera Company members Laura Choi Stuart, Marissa Famiglietti and Shae Apland in spirited choral tunes.

“My favorite part was being on stage,” said Mairin Rivett, who played a bird in the show. “[Working with the singers] was really cool, and I learned a lot.”

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