A sweet, satisfying introduction to opera for children

By Bill DeYoung

Since his debut in Carlo Collodi’s 19th century children’s book,
Pinocchio – the wooden puppet who can walk, talk and get into trouble –
has appeared in countless adaptations, from fine art and theater to
radio, cinema and television. Always, the lesson is the same: Tell the
truth, and you will find your way.

John Davies’ take on /Pinocchio/, while it’s not the first opera devoted
to the innocent, nobby-kneed kid whose nose grows when he tells a lie,
is certainly unique in that it’s written expressly for children. Now
onstage at Opera Central, headquarters of the St. Petersburg Opera
Company, the one-hour /Pinocchio/ not only deftly delivers the
time-tested message – truth is good – it also provides young people with
an amusing, entertaining introduction to a form of storytelling they
most likely haven’t run across before.

Appropriately, it’s fast-paced and it’s funny for those notoriously
short attention spans. Here are Pinocchio, Geppetto and a sextet of
characters both new and familiar, combining dialogue – sharp, to the
point and easily-digestible – and furthering the story along with songs.

Wolf and Cat, two disreputable figures, conspire to kidnap the wooden
boy and deliver him to the no-good puppet master Dr. Dulcamara. Wolf
(bass Andrew Emery) and Cat (tenor Chris Romero) are played strictly for
laughs, however – they recoil in terror when Pinocchio threatens to
“tell their moms” – and their big duet is sung to a winsome melody from
Mozart’s /Die Entführung aus dem Serail/.

In another song, adapted from Offenbach’s /The Tales of Hoffmann/,
Davies’ lyrics are to the point. The big bad Wolf tells Pinocchio:

/When something is your fault, just blame the other guy/
/It can be done with a teeny-weeny lie!/

Conductor Andi Zdrava leads a seven-piece chamber orchestra.

New to this version of the tale is the mechanical doll Olympia, imported
by the author from Offenbach. Although she requires winding-up before
she’ll sing and dance, Olympia becomes Pinocchio’s friend and ally.
Portrayed by soprano Kathleen Farrar Buccleaugh, Olympia trills “In the
spring, the little birdies” (also from Offenbach) and duets with
Pinocchio on a vocally-graceful section of Pergolesi’s /La serva padrona/.

At the preview performance I attended, the schoolchildren could not get
enough of it. They laughed, they gasped, they sat in rapt attention. At
times, they sang along.

As the title character, mezzo-soprano Taylor-Alexis DuPont projects an
air of guilelessness that perfectly captures the look – and sound – of
an innocent who literally does not know which way to turn. “Pa, Pa, Pa,”
from Mozart’s The Magic Flute, is performed as a tender duet with
Geppetto (tenor Chandler Johnson), while the other characters combine
forces for selections from /Don Pasquale, Don Giovanni, The Marriage of
Figaro, La Cenerentola/ and others.

For the final song, the cast sings:

/In everything that we say or we do/
/We’ll try every day our best to be true!/

Although seasoned opera-goers will recognize /Die Entführung aus dem
Serail/.

Unlike adult opera, where love, loyalty and betrayal can (and usually
do) lead to some sinister things, in /Pinocchio/- a sweet and entirely
winning children’s introduction to opera – the message is simple and
direct, delivered as pretty, primary colors.

And that’s the truth.

*FUN FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY!*

Taylor-Alexis Dupont
Pinocchio

ChandlerJohnson
Geppetto

Kathleen Farrar Buccleugh
Olympia

Rimas Karnavicius
Dr. Dulcamara

Paula Broadwater
Blue Lady

Fritz Faulhaber
Narrator

Chris Romeo
Cat

Andrew Emery
Wolf

See you at the opera!