Extreme weather, the responsible treatment of pets, and acceptance of diversity come together in the latest Opera for the Young production, giving parents, teachers and children lots to discuss and study.
“The overarching, coalescing theme is diversity, and it’s expressed by these four disparate singers coming together,” said Diane Garton Edie, Opera for the Young’s artistic director, who wrote the libretto, or text, for “Super Storm!”
The 45-minute production is touring elementary schools across the Midwest, and will be performed free for the public at 3 p.m. Sunday at The Margaret C. Winston Madison Opera Center, 335 W. Mifflin St.
Garton Edie, who’s partnered with three previous musical collaborators in adapting nine operas for the Madison-based Opera for the Young, said the original “Super Storm!” is filled with many styles of music, including barbershop-type harmonies.
Composer Scott Gendel “has done a wonderful job with his composing, creatively blending styles together,” Garton Edie said.
Opera for the Young was founded in 1970 with the mission of introducing children to opera. The group typically adapts famous operas, giving them unusual settings or time frames that appeal to young audiences and chorus members.
“Super Storm!” is unusual in that it’s an all-original opera. Through a fierce storm, unique qualities are enhanced in each character, including the “super powers” of empathy and wisdom, attributes that aren’t typically seen in super heroes, Garton Edie said.
The characters take refuge in a cave with animals who’ve been abandoned. “So that’s one of our themes: the responsible caretaking of pets. And they’re hiding from extreme weather, which is another subject interesting to children,” she said.
On Sunday, students from Crestwood Elementary will play abandoned cats and dogs who hide out in the same cave during the rough weather.
A secondary theme is bullying. Among the four characters is a baritone, whom Garton Edie characterizes as “just a little different, not part of the gang.”
Early in the show, the other characters poke fun at him, which starts the main plot action going. What ultimately pulls “Super Storm!” together is acceptance and appreciation of diversity.
Gendel, a freelance musician who is serving as the company’s music director for “Super Storm!,” said he and Garton Edie wrote the show over about a year and a half.
“It’s not a very linear process,” he said. “There were lots of drafts and ideas and brainstorming sessions and things that got written and thrown in the trash and things that got rewritten.”
The actual bearing down and final writing was about four months, he said.
The opera will be performed nearly 200 times this year, Gendel said. Opera for the Young is a professional touring group with three casts, which take turns doing tours of elementary schools.
The operas reach 75,000 children every school year throughout Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Michigan and Kentucky.
The shows become part of the schools’ music program curriculum and students from the schools serve as the chorus, learning about opera and singing in the process.
The core cast does two shows a day, five days a week, for about 18 weeks of the year, said Gendel, 41, who is also the principal coach and pianist for Madison Opera, sings with Madison Choral Project, and plays in a Frank Zappa cover band.
Gendel is looking forward to Opera for the Young’s local show on Sunday where the audience will include adults, who wouldn’t get to experience it otherwise. The opera will be followed by a question-and-answer session with its creators.