by: MARTY SOHL/MET OPERA  - North Clackamas high school students will feast their eyes on the massive set of 'Aida' on Dec. 15 at Century Clackamas Town Center cinemas.Drama students in the North Clackamas School District are getting to experience the world of opera up close this year, as the result of a partnership between the school district and the New York Metropolitan Opera.

Area movie theaters, including Century Clackamas Town Center, have been broadcasting live productions of the Met’s opera performances for six years, but tickets are pricey at $16 for students and $24 for adults. However, because of the partnership, 50 tickets are made available to the high school students for free for each opera.

by: PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - CHS Thespians Mychal Elmore and Christine Zhao look over a musical script.The partnership between the two entities came about because of Carrie Jo Vincent’s ongoing work with the Portland Opera. Vincent, the drama teacher at Clackamas High School, knew that the Met’s previous partnership with the Portland Public School District had ended, and she knew that the Portland Opera was focusing on local marketing of its own organization.

So she jumped at the chance to form an alliance with the Met, said Scott Walker, the drama teacher at Milwaukie High School.

In October, students from Clackamas, Rex Putnam and Milwaukie high schools went to see “L’Eliser D’Amore” (“The Elixir of Love”) by Gaetano  Donizetti and Felice Romani and “Otello,” by Guiseppe Verdi and Arrigo Boito.

“‘Aida’ will be our third opera, and is the one that we are really putting our energies into in terms of preparing the students with background information prior to the viewing of the opera,” Walker said.

Vincent noted that MHS students will attend a comprehensive workshop about “Aida” on Dec. 11 at CHS, just prior to seeing the live broadcast of the famous opera on Dec. 15.

As part of the partnership, Vincent went to New York City to train with the Met, and came back with study guides and binders for all three high school drama teachers in the district.

“The lessons include everything from plot and character to characteristics of the history of opera. The lessons also have accompanying sound bites from the various operas to illustrate the examples,” Walker said.

Purest form of theater’

“I wanted to take part in the program, because as a theater teacher I see opera as probably the purest form of theater,” Walker said. “It includes all of the basic media of theater: rhythm, harmony and language, as wellas compelling plots and fantastic acting.”

And there is so much to be gained from exposing students to opera, he noted, adding that opera “highlights classical plot structure, protagonist/antagonist relationships, conflict, complication and character.”

From a drama teacher’s point of view, opera also “demonstrates excellent acting, over-the-top scenic and costume design and vocal technique,” Walker said.

It also “showcases world-class singers using their instrument to fill a house with intense and passionate music, without the aid of artificial amplification to boot,” he said, adding that students must focus on a continuous story, with no commercial breaks and no interactive touch screen.

“And it does it all in a foreign language, so the kids really have to watch and listen and read the translation flashed across the top of the screen when they get lost in the plot,” Walker said.

“This is an amazing gift to our students from the New York Metropolitan Opera, and we hope to expand the offerings to our students in the future, both in the number of students we can take and in the number of live HD shows we can take them to. It is only the first year of the partnership, and we are looking to grow with it.”

Opening up a new world

Seniors Christine Zhao, 18, and Mychal Elmore, 17, are thespians at Clackamas High School, and although they have years of drama experience, the world of opera was a new one for both of them.

“Acting is acting, and in musicals, there is both music and dance, but opera takes musicals to another level,” Zhao said.

“The Elixir of Love” was the first live opera broadcast she had ever seen, and she said, “The music blew me away.”

She also loved the visuals, describing the sets as having a “painterly look” that enhanced the feel of the performance.

Elmore saw “Elixir” and “Otello,” and said for her it was an amazing experience to see how it all came together. Much of her own experience at CHS has involved backstage crew work and she stage managed the last two big musicals at the high school.

So for her, the backstage aspect of the live broadcast was a real eye opener. During the real-time intermission at the Met, viewers are led on a tour of the backstage area, and see set technicians at work.

“The size of the sets, everything they do, I did not realize how much work went into putting it on,” Elmore said, adding, “Seeing the stage manager with a giant clipboard, and seeing the intensity, made me see how much more difficult it is in the real world.”

Elmore is also in band at CHS, so she was fascinated by listening to the orchestra and watching them follow the singers; seeing them all work together, she said.

When she went to see “Elixir,” she sat next to an older lady who told her that she had become involved with operas when she was 11 or 12.

“She told me that she fell in love with them; that they opened up a whole new world for her. And she said she was happy to see high school students in the audience,” Elmore added.

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