Students get first taste of live theater from show

Ah, Cinderella’s dress.

It’s definitely the show stopper in Opéra Louisiane’s school productions of Gioacchino Rossini’s “La Cenerentola.” It, by far, generates the most discussion among the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade girls walking out of First Baptist Church of Baton Rouge’s front doors.

Even their male counterparts couldn’t help noticing, because a collective “ooooo” filled the church sanctuary the moment Cinderella walked on stage in her rhinestone-covered gown in the final act.

“It was pretty,” Omari’jay Hudson, 11, says with a shrug. “But there were a lot of things that were different. She had a stepfather instead of a stepmother, and the prince didn’t have her shoe. He had her bracelet.”

Hudson is a fifth-grader at Melrose Elementary, one of more than 3,000 schoolchildren who attended one of Opéra Louisiane’s two school performances on Nov. 7-8 at the church.

And he’s right. Rossini takes a different approach to Cinderella’s story, but the basic plot is still there. Cinderella is bullied by two mean stepsisters, both of whom have eyes for the prince, who has eyes only for Cinderella. She attends the grand palace ball, and she and the prince live happily ever after in the end.

“But she had a fairy godfather instead of a fairy godmother in the opera,” Diamonique Corey, 12, says.

She’s Hudson’s classmate in Tamika Lolis’ class. Also joining the conversation are fellow classmates Tiyanna Doss, 11, and Justin Simpson,10.

They all readily admit to cheering when Cinderella and her prince were united in the end, and all say they didn’t boo the stepfather and stepsisters.

True, Cinderella’s siblings were mean to her during the show, but these fifth-graders can relate.

“We have brothers and sisters that are mean to us sometimes,” Doss says.

Besides, Cinderella forgives her family after marrying the prince, granting each a pardon, which may have accounted for the lack of boos in the room. Children’s audiences are known for being honest, and they don’t hesitate booing the story’s bad guys.

“They’re very honest,” says Kristi Beinhauer, who played stepsister Tisbe. “But they didn’t really boo us, because we weren’t really evil. We were just bullies.”

The stepfather and stepsisters also were the opera’s comic relief. So, it’s kind of hard to boo characters who make you laugh.

“Besides, the opera was scaled down,” says Jess Koehn, who played the stepfather Don Magnifico. “So, all the really evil things that we would have done in the opera were cut out. We didn’t want to scare them.”

Opéra Louisiane’s Music Director Michael Borowitz condensed the opera into a 90-minute arrangement.

Pedro Willis-Barbosa, who played Prince Ramiro, liked gauging his audience’s reactions.

“Children’s audiences are always energetic,” he says, “and it’s sometimes hard to keep up with that kind of energy. But you have to keep it up, because you’ll lose their attention, otherwise.”

Beinhauer agrees.

“The energy level is high with children,” she says. “But the best part of this opera is waiting for their reaction to Cinderella’s dress.”

Mezzo soprano Claire Shackleton wore the dress as Cinderella. It was designed by the Metropolitan Opera’s costumers for LSU Opera’s 2011 performance of “La Cenerentola.”

And now the reviews are in.

“I loved her dress the best,” Doss says.

“It was my favorite part of the opera,” Corey adds.