Music News & Reviews

High schoolers find the fun in opera, helped by a fellow young musical artist: Mozart, age 12

Abby Cunningham plays hard-to-get Bastienne as Bastien, played by J.T. Snow, woos her in the Mozart opera “Bastien un Bastienne,” presented by the School for Creative and Performing Arts at Lafayette High School.
Abby Cunningham plays hard-to-get Bastienne as Bastien, played by J.T. Snow, woos her in the Mozart opera “Bastien un Bastienne,” presented by the School for Creative and Performing Arts at Lafayette High School. rcopley@herald-leader.com

Abby Cunningham and J.T. Snow are playing hard to get, or at least their characters are. But director Rachel Rogers isn’t quite getting the tension she wants, coaching the couple to come close together.

Millie Fields, sitting at the piano, laughs and says, “Who would have thought you’d have to show teenagers how to flirt?”

“It’s a romance,” Rogers says after the rehearsal. “Oh, she cheated on you. Oh, he’s an old man who wants to break you up. They respond to it in a very present way, and all of a sudden it becomes exciting, and present, and something that would be on TV.”

It’s an opera, and in a rarity, it’s being performed by a trio of high school freshmen from the School for Creative and Performing Arts at Lafayette.

Fields can’t remember an opera being performed high schoolers during her years in Fayette County Public Schools, but she saw that she had a group of singers who could tackle a piece ideally suited to them: “Bastien un Bastienne,” a one-act comic opera written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart when he was 12.

Musical theater is my thing, and opera puts a bit more of classical standpoint on it, instead of modern.

J.T. Snow, Bastien in “Bastien un Bastienne”

“To be 12 years old and compose that, like I’m 14, and I can barely make a chord,” says Luke Dailey, who plays Colas, the old quack magician who tries to break up the title couple.

Abby, who plays Bastienne, sees Mozart’s genius not just in the music but “in the lines. There’s so much irony in what I say and all the compositions. I can barely write an essay or put the correct accidentals on a scale, and he can write an opera.”

Fields says it’s not often that the right elements come together for high school students to present an opera — even a small production such as this one, which is about an hour long — but it’s important to keep “the good stuff” in front of students.

“It’s my job to teach them all I can teach them and prepare them,” Fields says, and for the students, being in an opera at the high school level might help them as they apply for the Governor’s School for the Arts and colleges.

“Musical theater is my thing, and opera puts a bit more of classical standpoint on it, instead of modern,” says J.T., a veteran of several SCAPA musicals.

It’s my job to teach them all I can teach them and prepare them.

Millie Fields, SCAPA music teacher

Rogers is working to convey the theatricality of musicals to this opera production, she says, because ultimately the show should be entertaining, and the student performers find a lot to like in the story.

“We’re like back and forth sometimes to make each other jealous,” J.T. says of himself and Abby, and the two are often egged on by Dailey’s old magician.

Abby says, “I’m so sassy and ironic and flirty, and it’s fun to flounce around.”

Note: This story was altered from its original version to correct the spelling of Luke Dailey’s name.

Follow Rich Copley on Facebook and Twitter, @copiousnotes.

If you go

‘Bastien un Bastienne’

What: One-act comic opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, performed by students from the School for Creative and Performing Arts at Lafayette High School

When: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 20

Where: Beaumont Presbyterian Church, 1070 Lane Allen Road

Admission: Free

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