Performing for about 3,000 elementary students at Vermillion, Yankton and Sioux City schools, University of South Dakota Opera students have been able to put their performance skills to the test while also spreading a message to children.
Assistant Professor of Music Brandon Hendrickson, director of the “Three Little Pigs,” said this year’s fall children’s production comes with a lesson.
“I always pick a show that tries to teach morals of good character,” Hendrickson said. “This specific show stresses the importance of reading and finding the goodness about the library.”
The two casts in the production performed at the schools Oct. 27-29. Having a split cast allows for more students to be involved with spreading that message, Hendrickson said.
“When (the USD students) see the magic in the children’s eyes, and they see the teachers reacting in a way and receiving praise from them, it makes a huge difference,,” Hendrickson said. “It feels so good to be able to provide that sort of outreach to the community.”
He said students are also able to learn from each other with a split cast.
“They can watch each other closely, listen to each other closely (and) take wonderful ideas from each other,” Hendrickson said. “It’s a really great learning environment and it’s just really wonderful to see the show evolve into something really fun and educational.”
Senior Jordyn Bangasser plays Despina, the sister in the “Three Little Pigs.”
She said the two different casts have been able to take creativity into their own hands and make their character unique.
“This is a little bit more of an intimate setting because we’re orientating it toward children,” Bangasser said. “That especially influences our mindset as we’re going through and creating our characters.”
Despina, a bookworm who is always willing to help, is constantly nagged by her two brothers, Cheribuno and Don Giovanni. Together, the three sing, work to fend off the wolf, Wolfgang Bigbad, and learn the importance of reading along the way.
This is the second opera graduate student Chris Larson, who is specializing in collaborative piano, has played piano for. Though this opera includes 14 songs from Mozart’s operas, Larson said he always finds accompanying a show challenging but enjoyable.
“I think there’s only one slow song in the whole show, so (there are) lots of fast, challenging, little corners in the music,” Larson said. “It’s the orchestra turned into something for just a piano to play.”
Assistant director and graduate student Ashley Ballou-Bonnema said though opera may seem inaccessible or intimidating at times, both casts of “The Three Little Pigs” have made it more welcoming and understandable to a diverse audience.
“The great thing about children’s opera is that it makes it accessible to everybody, regardless if you’re two years old watching a fairytale or being read a fairytale, or you’re 85 years old and listening to the story,” Ballou-Bonnema said. “You can all gain the same insight into it.”
The opera will be performed for the general public Oct. 31 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 2 at 2 p.m. in the Colton Recital Hall in the Warren M. Lee Center for Fine Arts. Admission is $5.
(Photo: Sophomore Kaela DeJong, left, and senior Brian Rasmussen, right, practice their lines during “The Three Little Pigs” dress rehearsal Oct. 23 in the Warren M. Lee Center of Fine Arts. The production will premiere Oct. 31 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 2 at 2 p.m. Chris Timmerman/ The Volante)