Young voices of hope sing out in opera production
Special to the Courier & Press
November 20, 2002
By DAVID COKER

It is very easy to lament the plight and motivations of many young people these days.

From the glaring images of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein on the home pages of your Internet service providers to the dreary post-mortem of the election returns, there is an edgy, uncertain feeling in the air after what has transpired in this country during the past year.

As the nation awaits a massive military attack on Iraq, to most kids a lot of this may seem irrelevant compared with the latest fashion trends, a recent episode of "South Park," school-related soccer games or perhaps booking time at the new skating rink on the East Side.

If their personal interests are elsewhere, they can just as easily witness the uncertain, fragile hollowness of such youth-oriented cultural icons as Eminem, Jay-Z, Britney Spears and the parade of their cohorts who find their way onto the VH1 music charts. Among these paragons of virtue projected into our homes via the cable TV channels are groups with names such as Public Enemy and Anthrax to instill confidence, reassurance and generosity in an age of the Global War on Terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and the plausible deniability of tyrants around the world.

Still others probably succumb to the hysterical exploits of World Wrestling Enterprises and Winston Cup stock car racing.

 One might ask: Is there not a more civil respite from all this chaotic nonsense?

Thankfully, there is, and you may witness it Thursday and Saturday at The Victory as Fifth Third Bank and the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra present Giacomo Puccini's touching, epic love story, "La Boheme." In the bargain, you will get to witness a very talented group of young people performing in the opera, a select group of kids from the Evansville Children's Chorus.

For the past couple of weeks, this small group of dedicated elementary and middle school students have spent a large portion of their after-school study time preparing children's choral and blocked movement parts in the opera.

Attending rehearsals at Trinity United Methodist Church, and, later, dress rehearsals at The Victory, their performances have amazed a good number of adults who have had the opportunity to see them perform - among them stage director Vernon Hartman.

According to Hartman, from the beginning of rehearsals, these young performers have "laid down the gauntlet" for the adult chorus members, as their exciting, staccato "Parpignol! Parpignol! Parpignol!" sings the praises of a strolling toymaker in the second act.

The young voices were a pleasant attraction filtering down the long, darkened corridors of the beautiful church.

Having worked with four children's choral ensembles during the past year in locations that include Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Green Bay, Wis., and Norfolk, Va., Hartman says this group of young singers is by far the best rehearsed.

Philharmonic conductor Alfred Savia is quick to point out the "phenomenal job" of choral director Teresa Cheung, who, in addition to coaching the adult members of the chorus, has dedicated just as much time to working with the children over the past several months.

Their youthful exuberance has been an encouragement to all involved in this substantial theatrical production.

In his time-tested poem, Rudyard Kipling wrote thoughtfully to young people of the merits of "keeping your heads while all about you are losing theirs," and great painters throughout the centuries have left us with beautiful canvases depicting all manner of religious and secular interpretations of their subject matter.

Likewise, those of us so fortunate to bring theatrical musical productions to life attempt to artfully present dramatic stories of long ago and in an organic, three-dimensional fashion that after the performance is retained only in the memories of those in the audience.

How blessed we are to have such exemplary musical theater in our midst. How blessed we are to have such talented young people who are eager to be a part of it.

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