EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 31, 2013

Ahoy Mates!

'Pirates of Penzance' an operatic experience for young thespians

By Kelly Burch

---- — When you think opera, do you picture overzealous sopranos, viking wigs and foreign languages? Possibly. However, one local organization is aiming to change that notion by making opera fun and accessible to kids.

The Treble Chorus of New England’s Hands on Opera! is a show staged specifically for educational outreach. This year’s production, “Pirates of Penzance,” debuts tomorrow night at The West Middle School in Andover, with a second performance Saturday afternoon.

The Treble Chorus opera program allows young people who are 10 to 18 years old to get involved with all aspects of a production, from the staring roll to making the set.

“The kids do everything,” said Bernadette Lionetta, president of the board of TCNE. “We call it ‘hands on’ because even the kids who aren’t into being in the limelight can be involved. They get the whole experience of what it takes to make a production.”

Some of the stars of the show were at first intimidated by being in an opera, something that Lionetta and director Rebecca Farnham said is a common reaction to the art form.

“People are absolutely intimidated by opera,” Farnham said. “They’re amazed by it because it’s an awesome and specialized craft, but the truth is a lot more people could participate in this than think they can.”

Francesca Lionetta, Bernadette’s daughter, said she was hesitant to take a role.

“When they first asked me to be in the opera I said, ‘No thank-you.’ Then I tried it and I fell in love,” Francesca said. “I love that I get to work with people to make beautiful music together.”

Francesca is playing the lead roll of Mable in “Pirates of Penzance,” a play that she said appeals to kids.

“There is all this commotion and all this drama,” Francesa said. “It’s just hilarious.”

Farnham agreed that “Pirates of Penzance,” an operetta, is a perfect production to introduce kids to opera – both in the audience and on stage.

“It’s an opera, but a little closer to the music theater in that it has dialogue,” she said. “True operas don’t have any dialogue, but that makes this show more fun for kids.”

At just 22 years old, Farmham is a music theory instructor for the the company. She teaches private lessons and does music therapy, too, along with community theater throughout the area.

“I’m passionate about making opera relatable,” she said. “It’s my art, what I live for, and I don’t want to see it extinct, like people keep insisting opera is.”

She said that exposing kids to opera is crucial to preserving the art. That’s part of the reason why Farnham is reveling in her roll as director of the Hands On! production.

“I love that when I give the kids a goal, they strive for it,” she said. “I give them a challenge and they meet it, then surpass it. It’s amazing. And that is besides their musical talents.”

Seeing her students marry singing and acting has been particularly rewarding.

“They not only have to sing with excellence, but must act with excellence, as well,” she said. “That has been remarkable. It’s authentic and genuine and has made for a really great performance.”

Francesca Lionetta, playing the lead, agrees.

“It’s been an amazing experience. I get to work one-on-one to improve as an actress,” she said. “Plus, I get to shine, which is always fun.”

If You Go What: The Treble Chorus of New England presents "Pirates of Penzance." When: Friday, Nov. 1, 7 p.m. and Saturday, Nov. 2, 2 p.m. Where: The West Middle School, 70 Shawsheen Road, Andover. How: Tickets available at the door cost $16 for general admission, $10 for students and seniors.