Tuesday | Nov 17, 2009

Mozart 101 with Sherri, Class #1

In truth, I had orchestrated my own disaster. The memory of my eighth-grade field trip kept running through my head. A grumpy conductor had stopped the program in order to lecture our group on the proper etiquette of applause. I decided then and there never to pay good money to be chastised for spontaneous clapping. Twenty years later, I arrived late and frazzled to the small community theater hosting Mozart 101, sparing only a passing frown at the gentleman who had just beaten me to a prime parking space and added three minutes to my tardiness.

The program began with a few words from Opera Omaha General Director John Wehrle introducing a collaborative program between Omaha Conservatory of Music [] and Opera Omaha. To further this endeavor, two adolescents took the stage against a jumble of props from a recent play. A mannequin dressed in watch-cap and pea-coat watched benevolently as they prepared.

Jennifer and Jehong Ahn communicated with the nods, gestures and eye rolls exclusive to siblings before tucking their instruments under almost identical chins. And then they played. Like a cathartic release, the notes seemed to untangle the complexity of human emotion into pure, harmonic sound. Equally inspiring, Hannah Pinnt Music performed Mozart’s Concerto in D Major with accompanist Dr. Karen Sigers.

I carefully waited until everyone else in the theater began clapping before I joined in the applause.

Then poet Matt Mason[] entertained the audience with an historical perspective of 18th century poetry. Full of love and loss, tragedy and jealousy, poetry contains many of the same themes today as it did 200 years ago. Inspired by a play, Lorenzo Da Ponte wrote the libretto for The Marriage of Figaro, carefully removing any overt political humor that would alienate Emperor Joseph II, while exploiting current views of the day to entertain his audience.

Garnett Bruce ended the program with music from The Marriage of Figaro, reminding us that the human voice is one of the most beautiful instruments of all. For me, art should always inspire emotion. I wish that I had not been so intimidated all these years. I try to remember this: a true artist is passionate about their work, and a true intellect can converse at any level. Artists who love what they do want to share with you—not exclude you.

After all, art is not about what you wear to the theater, or whether or not the usher is rude to you, or feeling intimidated by a conductor. Opera is about the performance—people who have spent years refining their talent in order to share their passion with an audience. Mozart had a singular talent for creating music that was accessible to everyone. And the more you know, the less likely you are to be intimidated. I hope you’ll join me on December 7th for the next installment of Mozart 101. Performances by the likes of Jennifer, Jehong and Hannah should not be missed!

Monday | Nov 09, 2009

Mozart 101 with Sherri

Everything I know about Mozart I learned from the movie, Amadeus. If memory serves, the Viennese made some rather naughty-looking chocolates named after a part of the female anatomy, and Mozart had a silly laugh. In my defense, when the movie premiered twenty-five years ago, I was busy putting the perfect slouch on my leg warmers and teasing my hair to heights that would have made a Georgian-era wigmaker proud.

In an effort to overcome my meager knowledge of classical music, I bought an album entitled, “ Mozart for Your Mind”. With iPod in hand and an earnest desire to boost my brainpower, I sat down to listen. Keep in mind, I can’t read music, I’m tone deaf, and my singing voice can only be described as horrific.

Imagine my surprise when the composition reverberating through my ear buds resonated on a perfect emotional pitch! I sent Amadeus right to the top of my Netflix Queue. I mean, can you imagine the killer soundtrack? Then I started looking for ways to improve on my new-found appreciation of all things Mozart.

On Monday, November 9th, I’ll be joining Opera Omaha in a four-part lecture and performance series to learn more about the life and work of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Please accompany me on the journey as we answer these burning questions: Can a person who once confused the word ‘opera’ with ‘Oprah’ be taught to appreciate classical music? And…In 150 years, will ‘rum balls’ be considered ‘naughty’?

PS: If there’s a good turnout, I might even be persuaded to reveal a picture of my 1980’s hairdo.
Sherri Shackelford | Mozart 101 student

Friday | Nov 06, 2009

Brundibar: Beth Seldin Dotan of the IHE

Brundibár was a glimmer of an idea a number of years ago for the Institute for Holocaust Education. We wanted to optimize the number of students who would see the production and found a wonderful partner in Opera Omaha to accomplish our goal. After the first 4,000 students or so came through, we all looked at each other in a daze realizing the impact this story was to have on so many people. A few of the best comments I have received are the people who approached and asked if our cast was a professional touring company – and I proudly answered, “No! Except for our wonderful ‘Brundibar’ the cast were all Omaha and Lincoln students.” I also attended a community event this week with Ela where I heard a great buzz among the crowd about her and the upcoming public show on Saturday night! We hope to see you there!

Thursday | Nov 05, 2009

Brundibar: The Two Aninkus

Grace Bydalek and Aubrey Fleming are about halfway through the eleven performances of the children’s opera Brundibár. They share the lead role of Aninku, a young girl trying to care for a sick mother along with her brother Pepíček. Double cast due to the number of performances, when not Aninku, Grace’s has the alternate role of the Dog, while Aubrey plays the Sparrow. The Dog, Sparrow and a Cat help Aninku and Pepíček defeat the town bully, Brundibár.

If their names sound familiar, it’s because they both are veterans of numerous productions on the Opera Omaha, The Rose, and Omaha Community Playhouse circuit in addition to both have done voice work for the “Strawberry Shortcake” DVD series. During Opera Omaha’s 50th Anniversary season, they worked together in another children’s opera, All The King’s Men.

Grace and Aubrey have often auditions for the same roles, but experiences like Brundibár have allowed the two to form a true friendship. Don’t miss out on seeing these two amazing young artists in action at 6:30 pm on Saturday, November 7 at The Rose Theater.

Monday | Nov 02, 2009

Brundibar – David Ward in the title role

I did not know the opera before but discovering it in this production has been a delight. As I hear the orchestra play its complex melodies and then hear the children sing so simply and lyrically, I am amazed that such an intricate composition can be so simple and straight-forward. And the tunes stay with me – I can’t get some of them out of my head. Though thoroughly Eastern European (I keep hearing Janacek in the way the music twists and turns), I am reminded of the final children’s chorus from Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Both Krása, the Brundibár composer, and Britten use a haunting melody in their final lullabies. The result is a very gentle, soothing and comforting effect. I can see how this brief opera would have been a comfort to the children in the concentration camp where it was performed.

It is also a powerful and accessible story. Two children just want to care for their sick Mom while their friends, both human and animal, come to their aid. In the process, they defeat the oppressive and unkind organ grinder, Brundibár. You can see the evil in Brundibár but I don’t think it is scary. This story comes from such a tragic time but its purpose is to uplift and provide hope. I feel that very powerfully. And that feeling comes from the cast of children, all of whom are so committed, energetic (as kids will be), and full of the zeal that we expect from young people.

It is very gratifying to be the only adult in this cast. The children are so supportive of me and each other. I have spoken at several schools and I am so pleased at the energy and interest the cast kids and their school friends have shown about this show, about music, and about being part of something special. Because this experience is very unique, I am thrilled to be a part of it.



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