Each year, Beasley students enjoy « Opera on the Go! », a program by the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (OTSTL) which offers workshops and a culminating performance for the upper grades of Lower School. This year, the program became a virtual experience that was as highly anticipated as ever by our 3rd and 4th graders. After all, many of our 4th graders remember writing and performing their own operas in 2nd grade.
For the past couple of weeks, Lower School Music Specialist Barb Spieler designed and implemented a variety of activities for the students to participate in. « Prior to watching the opera, we learned common opera terms, studied the plot, listened to the major arias, and acted out the characters, complete with improvised costumes and props, » shares Spieler. The activities led up to the 2021 online opera performance and a virtual visit with the very talented opera singer Angel Riley. « Students loved the activities we did in music class to prepare for the viewing of The Pirates of Penzance and the Zoom visit. »
On Wednesday, over 80 Beasley students gathered online to meet opera singer Angel Riley who played Mabel, a soprano, in the opera. The Zoom conversation was moderated by Spieler who called on students to ask a variety of questions after Riley first talked about her background. Students learned more about the opera performance, props, special effects
Originally from Belleville, Illinois, Riley shared that although she loved singing from the early age of seven, it wasn’t until her sophomore year of high school that she discovered her passion for opera. At that time, she auditioned and made it into the Artists in Training Program by OTSTL, and her love of classical music soared. From there, she earned her bachelor’s from DePauw University and her master’s from UCLA.
Here are some of the questions that students asked:
- How can you sing so high? How do you sing so long?
Riley answered that she takes voice lessons, practices technique, and works on exercises that go to the top of her range or allow her to sustain a note for some time. She also focuses on learning how to sing from her diaphragm in a healthy way and encourages anyone interested in singing to practice, practice, practice.
- Can you demonstrate some of the exercises you do to increase your range?
Riley demonstrated raspberries (lip rolls) and siren sounds much to the delight of our budding singers.
- How does the Major General sing so quickly?
Students learned that the fast singing they witnessed in the performance is the result of the performer first starting to speak through the text very slowly. Once they have the proper annunciation, they pick up the pace until they can sing quickly while everything can still be understood.
- Do you develop friendships among the different opera singers?
Riley explained that the Opera on the Go! group is very close. « You become close friends with the actors and people on set, » she said. « Sometimes, you even create inside jokes that can play out on stage together. »
- What do you like about opera?
« I love that I can sing in a way that feels most free to me. With opera, it feels like my voice is able to be most beautiful and most resonate. I also love the crazy plots of opera where you’re still able to find a message that is relevant today. I love that I’m able to act and sing with opera. I love everything about it. »
We were lucky enough to have Allison Felter, Director of Education at OTSTL, join the visit with Angel Riley. At the end of the meeting, she remarked « You all had such fascinating questions! »
Thank you to the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis for continuing to come to MICDS year after year. What a wonderful virtual experience for 2021 and a fabulous way to connect with one lead opera singer directly. Perhaps someday, one of our Beasley friends will become an opera singer too!