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The Billy Goats Gruff

Opera Idaho

Opera Idaho presented John Davies’ opera The Billy Goats Gruff to elementary and middle schools beginning October 7, 2019 through March 12, 2020. We utilized our Young Artists who were hired and brought to Boise for an entire season allowing us to present 10 more performances than last year. These four professional Young Artists served as the leads for the school tour performances as well as understudies for the lead roles and chorus members for our mainstage operas. The presented opera was The Billy Goats Gruff, an operatic version of the story of The Three Billy Goats Gruff based on scenes from operas by Mozart, Donizetti and Rossini, which tackles the issue of bullying and focuses on strategies of how to deal with a bully.

Opera Idaho’s Education Outreach Program featured 61 performances and reached over 22,000 children from 70 different elementary/middle schools in Nampa, Meridian, Boise, Caldwell, Eagle, Middleton, Star, Kuna, Blackfoot, Pocatello, Grace, Lava, Fort Hall, Donnelly and McCall. We also visited new areas including Garden Valley, Payette, Marsing, Mountain Home, Moscow, Downey and McCammon.

The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:

How do the arts, disciplines, contexts, and daily life inform creating, performing, and responding to music?

Opera is an all-encompassing art form featuring music, acting, movement, sets and costumes. Our goal with the education outreach program is to introduce students to opera and provide them with an opportunity to see how all of the different artistic pieces come together to tell a compelling story.

Teaching materials in the form of a study guide prepped students for the performance informing them what opera is and providing information on the production and the various composers from which the music was drawn. Prior to each performance, Opera Idaho’s artists taught students the various ways that audience members can respond and encouraged students to laugh and applaud where appropriate. The opera began with the artists teaching the students their billy goats chant and hand gestures so that they could participate any time it came up during the opera. The opera’s story revolved around bullying, a prevalent issue in schools, taking students through different scenarios on how to handle a bully, reasons why someone may act like a bully, and ultimately ended with the most important lesson that you should be fair and kind and true to everyone no matter who. Students responded throughout the performance by laughing at the funny moments, warning the characters when the bully was trying to sneak up on them and reacting with indignation when the bully made insults.

At the conclusion of the project, students responded to questions related to the identified Standards:

Students were asked to reflect on the performance providing their thoughts and answers on the following questions.

  • Who was your favorite character and why?
      •  “The bully was my favorite because he added drama.”- Liberty Elementary Student
      • “Lucy was my favorite. I was happy when she got her doll back.” – Christine Donnell School of the Arts Student
  • What was your favorite part?
      • “I liked the performance because I could hear you loud and clear. I also liked how you stayed on topic and told the story.”- Quin
      • One student wrote about the backdrop which featured the Sawtooth Mountains in a pointillism style. They wrote, “What kind of art was in the background? I’m asking because it looked like a ball or a bunch of balls were covered in paint and pushed on the tarp.”- Jack
  • What did you think about the opera?
      • “One thing I liked was that they changed the troll into a goat who was a bully but in the end turned into the goats’ friend. The taught us that kindness is contagious. Overall it is a great opera.”- Josie
      • “I loved your voices how high they could go and how low they could go.”- Ashlyn
      • “They did a great job explaining the moral. I think the twist and turns in the story were harder to understand, but overall I thought the opera was really good.”- Sydney
      • Some older students said the story seemed to be for younger kids.

Impact

“I wanted to write to let you know just how much impact Opera Idaho has had on our lives, all because of a school visit you made. Before the coronavirus, you visited my son’s school. He was in the gifted program and my son’s teacher reached out to tell me just how taken he had been with the performance. When quarantine went into place, I saw that the Met was offering free streams of their operas and thought my son would be interested. I was correct. My son has struggled with processing big emotions for a while now and I am truly amazed by how cathartic opera has been. Providing space for those big emotions to exist without shame (and in fact, with praise) has been life changing for us both”. – Parent of a student impacted by Opera Idaho’s visit

Kelly Hughes at the Garden Valley School District wrote: “Opera Idaho came to our school and presented The Billy Goats Gruff. Many of our students have never been to the zoo, heard a concert outside of the school band, participated (or even heard of) a performing arts event. Most don’t have an idea of what life outside of a small town looks like, which means they don’t know what opportunities they have to participate in “cultural” events, as a performer or observer. I heard for the remainder of the semester how much they loved it, and I answered questions about opera that have never been asked before”.

Reflection

Overall, the project was a great success reaching the largest number of students to date in a variety of areas throughout the State of Idaho. We had originally planned to continue the tour through April 3, 2020 with 13 more performances, but unfortunately due to the school closures from the Coronavirus pandemic, we were unable to finish the tour as planned. Out of the 70 schools we reached, 32 were different or new from last year’s outreach program.

We utilized our four Young Artists who were hired and brought to Boise for an entire season allowing us to present 10 more performances than last year. The performances were spread out throughout the season again this year which made it easier to schedule schools and proved less taxing on the artists.

We asked teachers and students at the schools we visited to evaluate this year’s program and review the performance. Overall, it was well-received by both educators and students. Educators indicated that the study guide as helpful providing some activities to help prepare the students which helped make the actual performance a positive experience. Students seemed to enjoy seeing a familiar story turned into an opera and liked that it focused around a topic and lesson that they could relate to and one that enforces what they learn in school.

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