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On A High Note

On A High Note
Opera 2014-10-28-041

Clinton Barrineau


The mood was tense as we took our seats in Hughes Hall for audition day last spring. Mr. Hogan—director of UMHB’s Opera Cru—greeted us as we arrived. In his hand was John Davies’ script, The Billy Goats Gruff, the script my classmates and I had memorized for weeks, awaiting our chance to audition for the children’s opera. The Billy Goats Gruff is composed of music from operas by W.A. Mozart, G. Donizetti, and G. Rossini, but at the same time, it is coupled with lyrics that children can easily relate to and understand.

The story is about three young goats who are playing hide-and-go-seek after school. A troll then enters the stage, scares the goats, and takes the youngest goat’s doll. The goats must now get back to their homes by crossing the bridge that the troll has commandeered, only to realize their youngest sibling refuses to go home without her stolen toy. While the dialogue is comedic, the script takes a serious approach to the issue of school bullying.
After being assigned a part, we were expected to memorize our lines over the summer so we could be ready for the fall production. This was Mr. Hogan’s seventh year casting students and directing shows for live audiences of thousands of elementary students in the Belton and Temple area.

Our professor explained to us the many reasons why children’s operas are important.

Among those is the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives through the performing arts. Children’s operas give us chances to relate meaningful, moral messages to children while showcasing famous musical works. On top of that, my classmates and I gain stage experience and develop our singing and acting skills, which are vital for career development. After casting was complete, Mr. Hogan announced our roles. I was assigned the part of a goat!

Months of preparation flew by quickly. Reflecting on the memories my classmates and I made as we prepared for this final week brings a smile to my face. I remember the many nights I laid in bed rehearsing my lines until I fell asleep.

It was now time for us to perform our ten showings of the fall production.

Opera Cru

Barrineau (right), plays a billy goat, along with two of his classmates in the performance of The Billy Goats Gruff.

A challenging part of acting is getting into character. I look at the script to see what the other characters are saying; then I look back at my lines. I stare into the mirror and study my different facial expressions, weighing them during various parts of the show. I’m sad. I’m angry. Oh wait, am I nervous? Maybe I’m brave here.

I shuffle through my thoughts. Whenever I get exhausted portraying someone I’m not, I focus on the bigger picture of what I do. In God’s kingdom, we’re supposed to get out of the way and deny ourselves so that God can move through us. That’s how I feel about acting. I get out of the way so that the story’s message carries through the character I’m playing. The better I am at shaping my character, the better the audience understands the meaning of the show.

OK; memory lane is closed!

I grab my furry, brown costume off of the hanger backstage and carefully zip it up to cover my whole body with the exception of my feet and face. I put on my tennis shoes and then drape the excess fabric over the shoes. I look in the mirror to make sure the deep, rose blush on my cheeks hasn’t faded. I practice my lines in a faint whisper while clipping my microphone onto my undershirt. Mr. Hogan tapes the mic’s cords behind my ear, and I can hear my whisper turning into a boisterous song.

opera edited 3

George Hogan directs students during a performance.

“Are you ready?” Mr. Hogan asks me.

“Yes sir,” I respond putting on the hood of my costume.

I can hear the hundreds of eager children sitting on the other side of the closed, red curtain. Jessica, our student-director, makes sure the cast is ready. She scans the stage ensuring the props are where they should be. She eyes her fellow students—make-up, costumes, microphones—check! Everything looks good.

Jessica looks at Mr. Hogan, signaling to him that the cast is ready. She gets herself in position next to the stage manager’s desk. Silence hushes over the audience. I breathe deeply.