• Opera Brings "Lucia"
    To KCS Students

    Posted by Josh Flory on 1/22/2019
    Baritone Eric McKeever (left) crosses swords with tenor Brandon Russell, during a Knoxville Opera performance at Powell Elementary School.
    Baritone Eric McKeever (left) crosses swords with tenor Brandon Russell, during a Knoxville Opera performance at Powell Elementary School.

    There were no superheroes or pop stars, but a nearly 200-year-old performance still managed to keep the attention of students at Powell Elementary School last week.

    On Tuesday, the Knoxville Opera presented an abridged version of “Lucia di Lammermoor” at the Powell gym, one of a dozen performances for KCS students that the Opera provided during the month of January.

    A trio of performers presented a five-scene version of “Lucia”, while director Brian Salesky accompanied them on a keyboard and introduced each scene. A makeshift stage under the gym’s basketball hoop included several pieces of scenery, while two spotlights provided dramatic lighting.

    In an interview, Salesky said arts organizations have a responsibility to serve the community, and that the opera functions as something of a lesson plan. The performers host a Q-and-A after the production, and Salesky said the conversations can touch on science, math and geography, “because what we do involves everything.”

    “It’s literature, it’s architecture, it’s design,” he said. “Music is math, music is left brain, music is right brain. The human body produces sounds in a very particular way. Young people don’t understand how that happens and so very, very often we’re talking about the anatomy and how a person trains themselves to be able to project their voices like that.”

    Interests vary by age, of course, and at Powell Elementary students seemed particularly intrigued by the opera’s action sequences. One student asked why the characters used swords, and tenor Brandon Russell explained that during the time period in question, “a lot of people settled fights with swords.”

    A follow-up question asked if the swords were real, and Russell explained that while the weapons were made of steel, they weren’t sharpened.

    After the show, 5th-grader Abigail Reiche said she had seen an opera previously, during a field trip in third grade. And what was her favorite part of “Lucia”? “Basically all of it,” she said. “All of it was really good.”

    Salesky said the performance will be seen by approximately 8,000 students from schools across East Tennessee, in addition to full-length performances at the Tennessee Theatre. A free-admission student dress rehearsal will take place on Feb. 20, at 6:30 p.m., and adults who accompany students can attend for $5.

    As for the in-school performances, Salesky said the challenge for students is that the style of music is unfamiliar. But he said the advantage is that the opera is telling a story that includes themes such as conflict, love and sacrifice: “All the elements that tell any good story are right there.”