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Madison-based opera company brings music to kids

Karina Brazas (right, Rosina in Opera For the Young’s The Barber of Seville) sings with members of the student chorus (from left) Jack Dalske, Macie Segebrecht, Garrett Spinks and Anthony Spataro, as the Prom Queen at the beginning of the opera. The show was held Friday, Feb. 7, at St. Croix Central Elementary. (Photo by Sarah Young)1 / 4
SCC student Garrett Spinks played Rosina’s music teacher in Opera For the Young’s performance of The Barber of Seville on Friday, Feb. 7. He was a scene stealer in this part where (from left) Dr. Bartolo, Figaro and Count Almaviva puzzle over the appearance of two music teachers for Rosina. (Photo by Sarah Young) 2 / 4
At the end of Opera For the Young’s The Barber of Seville, Rosina (played by Karina Brazas) and Count Almaviva (played by Clark Sturdevant) rejoice after she accepts his marriage proposal. (Photo by Sarah Young) 3 / 4
Opera For the Young’s Mark Craig (who played Dr. Bartolo in The Barber of Seville) takes questions after the opera from the elementary student audience. (Photo by Sarah Young) 4 / 4

Opera For the Young’s annual visit to St. Croix Central Elementary School is one of the highlights of the year for students, parents and teachers.

This year’s opera troupe performed The Barber of Seville, a love story set in 17th century Spain, at St. Croix Central Elementary Friday, Feb. 7. The opera, written by Giaochino Rossini, was adapted for OFTY by Diane Garton Edie.

Elementary music teacher Jeanne Larson said OFTY has been coming to SCC for more than 10 years. The performance was sponsored by the Parent Panther Group.

According to, introducing elementary age children to opera is the nonprofit company’s focus. They adapt operas for children, sing them in English and allow children to take part in the chorus. They have been doing this since 1970 and are based out of Madison.

“Opera for the Young sends schools excellent teaching materials and a recording of the opera,” Larson said. “Students start listening to the opera a little at a time over about two months. The opera is written to include the student chorus parts. During music class time we concentrate on learning the student chorus parts, learn about the story and listen to as much of the opera as we can. The lesson plans vary according to grade level. Older students listen to the opera and follow the libretto (the words of the opera). I enjoy sharing as many musical experiences with students as possible.”

The actors/singers in the opera come from all over the country. Mark Craig, who plays Figaro, hails from Chicago. Karina Brazas, who plays Rosina, is from Omaha, Neb. Erin Crabb, the pianist, is from Madison. Clark Sturdevant (Count Almaviva) hails from St. Louis. Bostonian Andy Papas plays Dr. Bartolo.

During the question/answer session after the opera, the actors explained that they auditioned for their parts against hundreds of other performers. Brazas, who is in her first season with OFTY, said three performers are chosen for each part. They rehearse for five days together before they’re dispersed across the country to perform.

The sets they carry with them are light and versatile, since they must fit into a 16-passenger van along with the cast and their luggage, Brazas said.

SCC students who sang in the onstage chorus include Jack Dalske, Joey Mazzitello, Carlee Lyon, Madison Morgan, Ethan Gardner, Nathan Kobilka, Kaitlyn Carlson, Isabella Bune, Parker Shackleton, Kaden Fry, Laina Rubis, Alayna Hackbarth, Macie Segebrecht (who played the police officer), Claire Pommier, Mark Albright and Garrett Spinks (who played music teacher Don Basilio).

Offstage chorus students included Anthony Spataro, Skylee Wolske, Hanna Ostrander, Tatum Beamer, Tanner Davis, Kennedy Bexell, Robert Munson, Brenna Thoen, Bryn Afdahl, Kyle Trainor, Lorraine Sweet, Paige Frankiewicz, Ciarra Helwig, Emma Hannan and Brock Johnson.

“These students had the opportunity to rehearse with the performers from the opera,” Larson said. “Many children were familiar enough with the opera to be part of the student chorus but the number of students needs to be reasonable because of limited rehearsal time.”

Sarah Nigbor

Sarah J. Nigbor serves as a regional editor for RiverTown Multimedia, a position she began in April 2017. She joined RiverTown Multimedia in October 2013 as a news reporter for the New Richmond News, before being appointed editor of the Pierce County Herald in Febraury 2015. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spanish and French in 2001. She completed a minor in journalism in 2004. 

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