Presenting opera for children seems like an idea that’s going hotter than hotcakes. Kids and their parents are eating this stuff up. In December the Washington National Opera presented its third year of seasonal family performances with sold-out performances of The Little Prince. This weekend Washington’s most intimate opera company, The InSeries opens its own work, Bastian and Bastianna, at the Source Theatre.
Last year The InSeries presented the same work, sending it up as a trial balloon with the intention of busing young DC students to 14th Street to give them a first taste of this most artfully integrated of performance forms. According to director Elizabeth Pringle, the idea came from Artistic Director Carla Hubner. Hubner is known to be undeterred and fearless in this community, presenting unusual repertory and cross-over music-theatre work such as the Hispanic zarzuelas in intimate productions and building new audiences as well as giving young singers opportunities to perform.
Pringle has been a long-time collaborator with Hubner and shares her enthusiasm for offbeat and quirky projects. Pringle has directed several pieces for The InSeries, including Marriage of Figaro where she threw in some sixties pop songs. “Yes, she usually calls me up and says she’s got a new idea. I usually say, ‘That sounds like fun.’ And we begin.”
The InSeries may be on to a sure-fire recipe for success choosing this work that features a very young composer, not much older than Hubner’s intended audience. Mozart was only 12 when he wrote Bastian and Bastianna and his delightful borrowings – lovely melodies from the French and certain qualities from German lieder – gave him a playground to explore and try out the integration of character, plot, and music for what later would show him to be master of operatic form.
I asked Elizabeth about her working with Mozart, and in this case serving as both adapter and director. “I love working with Mozart anytime I can. It’s always lots of fun. Mozart is full of energy and lots of bounce.”
“This show represents “tween Mozart.” The story is really about adolescents and all the emotional drama of young love. (The plot goes something like: young girl loses boy, boy repents but loses girl, boy and girl get each other and love.) Full of lots of silliness, it’s both light-hearted and very sweet. At the same time, many moments somehow spoof high opera plots as well as the singing.”
I wanted to know what she had altered to update the work.
Pringle responded, “Well, I placed the work in a nineteenth century pastoral setting then put in lots of sheep to be part of action to bring it into the twenty-first century through a lot of humor.” Sheep eh? Well apparently it’s quite the flock of stuffed and puppet sheep. As she talked about the little adorable “chorus,” I found myself already hooked.
BASTIAN AND BASTIANNA
Dates: January 10 and 17 at 2pm
1835 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009
Tickets: $10 – $20
Details and Tickets
Pringle’s background includes working with a lot of young people, and I can well believe she tiptoes well through her fields of sheep, knowing intuitively what combination of sweetness and humor will grab and hold the attention of young audience members. At the same time, Pringle’s work has always demonstrated a smart and slightly sassy contemporary stance. Adult audiences accompanying their children will find much to smile about and enjoy.
This year, Bastian and Bastianna gets a fresh remount with some new cast members in its two matinee performances of the comic fairy tale. Teresa Ferrara and Pablo Henrich-Lobo are the new young lovers who join Alex Alburquerque as Colas the magician who helps set young love aright.
If you don’t have a ticket for any of the school performances, better book your seats early and grab your own child to bring to The Source and enjoy the public performances. There might be a chance up front to get your wiggles out early. Then settle in for the loveliest sounds that opera represents. The world is finally waking up to the idea that if we want opera to march fully into the twenty-first century, all of us need to heave ho towards developing the next generation of audiences.
Thank you, Carla, Elizabeth and The InSeries for doing your part. As for the rest of us, surely it’s a great gift to enjoy the work of a very young Mozart – all coming in under an hour – and experience his joy, expansiveness, and great humanity.