BY KAY BURNS
SPECIAL TO THE PILOT
“Hello there good people - You have arrived,
that is clear
Now get comfortable and ready - For the
opera is drawing near”
— Prologue libretto, Hansel and Gretel
The opera is indeed drawing near, and the
good people of Campbellton, Lewisporte and
area will soon be witnesses to this new opera
program being developed for youth in the
On Sept. 12, at 6:30 pm, the Artistic Directors
invite people from the region to come out
for an Open House event at Campbellton Community
Centre to learn more about this opportunity.
Jenni Harrison and David Budgell, founders
of the Boston Children’s Opera, are now bringing
their skills and professional expertisel.
Since 2001, Harrison and Budgell have been
living approximately six months of each year in
Campbellton, and this fall they are initiating an
opera program here with a production of
Budgell’s “Hansel and Gretel”. While it is not
entirely unusual to find opera programs for
children in some major cities, there are no programs
like this in Newfoundland.
Over the course of 17 years in Boston, they
worked with numerous groups of children to
rehearse and present the opera “Hansel and
Gretel” approximately 100 times.
This is only one of 13 operas that David
Budgell has composed and written for children.
Others include Snow White, Cinderella,
Robin Hood, and Treasure Island. They have
led literally hundreds of youngsters into the
world of opera through their collaborative
opera programs for children and youth.
Budgell and Harrison understand that the
idea of opera is a bit unusual for this region.
Opera has its origins in 16th century Italy. In
contrast, the more familiar Broadway style
musical theatre, began in the mid-to-late 19th
While opera may be the historical forerunner
to the idea of the Broadway musical, the
two art forms exist independently today, and
each is distinct.
Jenni Harrison explains some of the differences
between opera and musical theatre: “It’s
a stage production like a theatre production,
but different than musical theatre because
there is no spoken dialog. Everything is done
through song and singing….”
The distinction is addressed in a July 2011,
New York Times article:
“Both genres seek to combine words and
music in dynamic… artistic ways. But in opera,
music is the driving force; in musical theater,
words come first. This explains why for centuries
opera-goers have revered works written
in languages they do not speak.”
The idea that everything is done through
singing is part of the reason why children take
so easily to the art form.
Harrison explains, “It’s much easier for kids
to learn it because dialog can bog everyone
down. It’s harder to learn spoken dialog. When
there’s music behind it, it’s like singing the
alphabet – you learned because the music was
backing up the words.”
Budgell adds, “In my material it’s in the form
of poetry, rhyme, which is a great vehicle to carry
the music that I write, and the kids seem to
pick it up in a matter of no time.”
Both Harrison and Budgell feel this program
will do well here. In their casual conversations
with people of Campbellton, the
response to the idea has been positive.
Budgell says, “Newfoundlanders are such
talented human beings… it’s in their blood. I
think that will help get this program off the
Furthermore, the people of Lewisporte and
area are showing interest in helping with costumes
and props and other aspects of the performance.
As well. they say there’s a tremendous
amount of enthusiastic support from
Campbellton’s Mayor, Maisie Clark, and Rose
Pomroy, Co-Chair of the Campbellton Recreation
Budgell says, “I want to give kids a chance to
try opera here in this region. What we did for
the children in Boston – parents were tearyeyed
about ‘my child has never had such a good
time’; we’ve had so many different children up
on stage and they excel, and parents were so
“Theatre in general is very therapeutic for
children… when children get up on stage to do
an opera and see the final result they know they
have accomplished something; it’s good for
confidence levels and everything else” says
And there is no need for any of the participating
children and youth to know how to read
music. They all learn by ear.
Each participant is given a copy of the libretto
(the lyrics) and a copy of a CD with all the
songs sung by Budgell. Each child then highlights
their own part within the libretto to read
the words, and they listen to the CD sections of
their parts at home as often as they need to
learn the part.
This allows for children to practice on their
own between rehearsals where they engage
with each other and learn the stage directions
for their performance.
Budgell has composed and written the
opera for a very balanced distribution of parts.
There are roles for 21 cast members (they
are hoping to gather enough participants for
two casts in the fall).
He says, “it’s not just about playing Hansel
or Gretel; the roles are balanced so the baker or
the cobbler has just as much of a role. Everyone
has at least one or two arias as well as duos
Their extensive experience as directors of
children’s opera has presented them with
delightful surprises over the years. One mother
was insistent that her 6-year-old daughter was
capable of participating even though younger
than the required age for the program. Sure
enough this little girl took home her CD and
libretto, and returned to rehearsal the following
week with her part fully memorized.
Budgell tells other stories, “We get many