Students from local elementary schools St. Peter Claver and Vineville Academy will join Mercer University Opera to present “A Muskrat Lullaby,” an opera for young audiences, this weekend.
Performances will be at Mercer’s Fickling Hall. Students from Vineville Academy will perform during Friday’s shows, and students from St. Peter Claver will perform during Saturday’s shows.
“The plot of ‘A Muskrat Lullaby,’ which was written and composed by Edward Barnes, is based on the storybook ‘Mama Don’t Allow’ by Thatcher Hurd,” said Martha Malone, professor of music and director of Mercer University Opera.
“The story is 23 minutes long, which is the perfect length of time for younger audiences. It revolves around a quartet of bayou animal musicians looking for a place to rehearse. Their noisy activities lead their neighbors to banish them to the swamp, where they have adventures with Boss Alligator and his Alligator Gang. The quartet eventually escapes the alligators by singing them to sleep with a lullaby. The audience has lines to speak and in the final scene joins the cast in singing the lullaby upon the quartet’s return home.”
Calling the show, “very darling,” Malone said it’s Mercer’s fourth production of the show, the first being in 1994.
“It really is just precious, because the quartet of animals is rejected from everywhere they try to practice, until they go to the swamp and are invited to be a part of the alligator ball,” she said. “The plot really appeals to younger kids, who can relate to the leaving home to have an adventure idea.”
Malone said she’s always had an interest in presenting opera to young audiences.
“I wrote my thesis on presenting opera to American youth. I did a lot of research on what opera companies were doing and what they were showing, and found this piece, which was written for the Los Angeles Opera in 1989,” Malone said. “Children from local schools are chosen to be part of the chorus with the opera singers. Children in the audience are encouraged to participate as well, with lines and spoken parts that we teach the audience before the show begins.”
These performances can go a long way in fostering a love for the arts in young children, she said.
“Research has shown that the best way to give young children an appreciation of the arts is to get them involved, either on stage or learning about the show and music ahead of time,” Malone said. “We are working with Vineville Academy and St. Peter Claver. We will do performances in the schools and then we are bringing the children from those schools to our campus to perform with us. They get to come onto a college campus and see college students, and we get the chance to build an ongoing relationship with them.”
For the kids who participate in the show, there’s more to learn than just a script.
“Children learn personal responsibility, respect for others, team work and many other attributes from participating in the arts. Everyone depends on each other and each role is important,” Malone said. “Also, this is just pure fun. The music is tuneful and the dancing is entertaining. People should come early. There are lots of people who attend and there are only 200 seats.”
“A Muskrat Lullaby”
When: 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 25; 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. Sept. 26
Where: Fickling Hall, Mercer University