Vocalists prepare “The Billy Goats Gruff” opera tour for local schoolchildren with anti-bullying message

"The Billy Goats Gruff" SIUE opera cast during rehearsal Photo courtesy of Kate Slovinski

SIUE vocal students will tackle issues of bullying for local schools with the production of “The Billy Goats Gruff.”

Opera-tion Arts is an Opera Outreach program that performs in cooperation with the SIUE department of music. This fall, students will perform in the opera as volunteers for area schools.

Kate Slovinski serves as theater specialist and director for the SIUE opera group. Music professor Joe Welch directs the music.

Slovinski said “The Billy Goats Gruff” production will benefit children by teaching them to accept others as well as giving them an introduction to opera.

“Hopefully the children become interested in the art form of opera,” Slovinski said. “In addition to promoting authentic experience with the arts, this opera offers a strong message of inclusion and anti-bullying.”

The opera was adapted from “The Billy Goats Gruff” story by John Davies. It consists of four goat characters: Lucy, played by junior vocal major Allison Wagner; Ernesta, played by senior vocal major Lindsey Davis; Dandini, played by senior vocal major Ben Rardin; and Osmini, played by sophomore vocal major Tyler Green.

Three goats in the opera encounter a bully goat, Osmini who prevents them from going home after school by blocking a bridge. While two of them turn around and take the long way home, the smallest goat, Lucy, confronts him. Eventually Osmini’s character is affected by her standing up to him.

Senior vocal major Lindsey Davis said she was thrilled when she found out the opera addressed bullying.

“I was Ernesta in middle school,” Davis said. “Even though I had my close friends I somehow found myself at the end of a serious bullying problem…I took it upon myself to take in every other kid who was picked on or bullied like myself. “

Green said his character is quite complex as the bully.

“My character is very mean on the outside, but inside he just desires to be liked by the other billy goats. My character conveys many different emotions,” Green said. “When I am around the other billy goats, I am a very stereotypical bully, but when I am alone on stage I am a little more weak and reserved.”

Slovinski said she believes this opera does not fit the stereotypical mold of the genre: “old-fashioned and hard to understand.”

Rather, “The Billy Goats Gruff” music is rearranged from “popular classic arias” originally composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Gioachino Antonio Rossini and translated into English, according to Slovinksi.

“They hear the tune in their language and hopefully, it dispels that stigma of boring associated with opera,” Slovinski said.

Green said he especially enjoys the opportunity to perform the opera before children.

“I think it is great that we have the opportunity to perform for kids and share classical music with them. It’s important for them to have this exposure,” Green said. “Hopefully some of them grow up to appreciate classical music just like me.”

Music professor Marc Schapman said he hopes the program will continue with its wide outreach.

“During the past several years we have reached thousands of children in the St. Louis area with our outreach.  We have exposed them to wonderful operas imbued with important morals,” Schapman said.   Katherine Slovinski and Joe Welch have been excellent colleagues in this endeavor, and I hope to continue this project for years to come.”

The Opera-tion Arts production tour of “The Billy Goats Gruff” will last from Oct. 25 – Nov. 15. Schools interested in booking the show can contact Marc Schapman at 618.650.2034 or email him at maschap@siue.edu.

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