By Curt Yeomans
Clayton State University voice performance student Lianna Wimberly had never performed in an opera that included children before this spring, but she said she was excited by the opportunity to change that this year.
Wimberly, a resident of Jonesboro, played the role of "Mrs. Noye" Friday and Saturday in the Clayton State Opera's production of "Noye's Fludde." The opera is designed to include large groups of children in the cast, and several youths from Clayton and Henry counties joined students from Clayton State University in recreating the biblical tale of Noah's Ark.
Wimberly and several other Clayton State students said they welcomed the change of pace from what they are used to doing.
"There was never a dull moment, and they're really good singers," Wimberly said. "They were always willing to learn ... The good thing is if we showed we were excited about doing this opera, a lot of that energy was passed on to them."
Clayton State University Director of Opera and Vocal Studies Kurt-Alexander Zeller said he got the idea to do an opera which included children a year ago when the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools threatened to revoke the accreditation of Clayton County schools.
He wanted to do something that would divert their attention from the accreditation crisis, while also exposing them to the operatic style of singing. He phoned some of his colleagues in the local public schools and invited their students to participate in "Noye's Fludde."
Youths from Arnold Elementary School, and Luella and Lovejoy high schools, sang in the opera while more students from Luella High School, Rex Mill Middle School and Union Grove High School performed in the orchestra.
"I got to thinking how they must get tired of turning on the news before school every day and hearing people talk about how Clayton County schools were bad, when most of that was about the school board," Zeller said. "This is also such a wonderful work to introduce children to opera with."
"Noye's Fludde" is an opera based on a 16th Century play, of the same name, set in the Bible's story of Noah's Ark, according to statement from the university. English composer Benjamin Britten turned the play into an opera when he set it to music in December 1957, and it was first performed at the Aldeburgh Festival in Suffolk, England, the following year, according to the Britten-Pears Foundation's web site.
The Arnold Elementary School students played animals on the ark, while the students from Lovejoy and Luella high schools played people on the ark.
The opera also featured six Clayton State students who are natives of Clayton and Henry counties, including: Wimberly, Jonesboro resident Clayton Beatty (who played "God"), Stockbridge residents Stephen Odom ("Jaffet") and Melissa Reece ("Mrs. Jaffet"), and McDonough resident José Caballero ("Sem").
The title character of "Noye" was played by Newnan resident and Clayton State student Brad Raymond. Other Clayton State students who performed in the opera were Fairburn resident Afolabi Giwa ("Ham") and Lilburn resident Lindsey Martin ("Mrs. Sem").
The audience also had a chance to participate in the opera, as it is written to have attendees sing along during the hymnal songs "Lord Jesus, Think On Me," "Eternal Father, Strong To Save," and "The Spacious Firmament."
"It's been pretty crazy," Odom said. "We auditioned in our vocal performance class, and when you work with anyone outside your class, it can be pretty hectic to try to make everyone's schedules work out."
Caballero said he enjoyed working with the children, and he would do it again if the opportunity presented itself. "I love working with children," he said. "It's nice being looked up to and showing them what we know about opera. It also gives us a chance to plant a seed in them, which will hopefully grow."
One of those youths who got to work with the college students for the first time was Hampton resident Amanda Pillatzki, a senior at Luella High School. Pillatzki played "Mrs. Ham," and it was her first time performing in an opera, although she has been involved in youth choirs at Clayton State's Spivey Hall for seven years.
"It was a really amazing learning opportunity," Pillatzki said. "We formed a really close bond, which I didn't really expect coming from a different age group than most of the other people in the cast. I learned to love opera."