Next month Opera Parallèle will begin its 2015–2016 season with its fourth annual Hands-on-Opera project. This is a community outreach program that involves students at the elementary school level in the production and performance of opera. In this case the opera will be the premiere of a new work commissioned by the program, and the participants will be students from both the fourth and fifth grades.
The opera is Amazing Grace, based on a children’s book of the same title by Mary Hoffman. It is about a student production of Peter Pan at Grace’s school in which Grace wants to audition for the lead. Her classmates do not understand how a girl can play a boy’s role. However, Grace learns the story of her aunt, a character based on Janet Collins, the first African-American to be a principal ballerina in the Metropolitan Opera Ballet. This steels Grace’s determination to go after her own personal goal.
The composer of the opera is Chris Pratorius, working with a libretto prepared through a partnership of Brian Staufenbiel, Opera Parallèle’s Creative Director and Resident Stage Director, with Roma Olvera. The participating students are from Saint Martin de Porres Catholic School in Oakland. The production will be directed by Krista Wigle, and the music will be conducted by David Gordon. All of this will be the product of an eight-week residency bringing Opera Parallèle staff into direct partnership with the school students.
Over this period of time the students have been learning their vocal roles and working with the production team to come up with and develop their own ideas for dramatic interpretation. They will also perform a ballet choreographed by Jené Levine Snipes of the Village Dancers. Participating profession singers will include Yemonja Stanley in the role of Grace, Jasmine Johnson as her Nana, who tells the story of her Aunt Janet, and Joe Meyers as Paw Paw, the trusted cat.
Amazing Grace will be given three performances, all free. They will take place on Thursday, November 12, at 6 p.m. and twice on Saturday, November 14, at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. The performance will take place at the African American Art & Culture Complex. This is located at 762 Fulton Street at the corner of Webster Street. Past Hands-on-Opera performances have filled up quickly; so audience members are encouraged to arrive early. In addition, Brown Paper Tickets has set up an event page for making reservations in advance.