An opera for kids takes them on a journey to ancient Egypt

By M.L. RANTALA
Classical Music Critic

Lyric Unlimited, an arm of Lyric Opera of Chicago, offers smaller productions than offered on Lyric’s main stage. Last year they offered “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” which was a hit in Chicago and other cities.

Lyric Unlimited also offers opera for children. This year it is “The Scorpion’s Sting”, with music and libretto by Canadian composer Dean Burry. He is the composer of the chidldren’s opera “The Brothers Grimm” which has had over 500 performances across Canada, the U.S., and Europe, including performances for Chicago school children sponsored by Lyric.

“The Scorpion’s Sting” is a 45-minute opera with a simple yet educational story: three students are on an archeological trip to Egypt when their professor is bitten by a scorpion. The students must try to find a way to save their teacher. In their search for a cure, a story within a story unfolds, that of Osiris and Isis. The students stumble upon the Lost Temple of Isis. Remembering that Isis was the goddess of healing, the students use the hieroglyphics they find on temple walls in a search for a cure and the professor is saved.

The story is simple and the language is always clearly understandable. There is some spoken text to help move the story along quickly.

The opera is well cast with singers who always clearly enunciate and take the acting elements of their part very seriously. Since each singer has at least two roles, their strong acting talents are important in separating their present-day character from their character of the ancient past.

Soprano Melinda Alberty, mezzo-soprano Julia Hardin, tenor Curtis Bannister, and baritone Matthan Black were all splendid and created a sound world that appealed to the large number of children in the audience during the premiere performance.

“The Scorpion’s Sting” is a fast-moving, engaging opera which drew the children in. Burry even included the audience at one point, asking the kids to repeat a simple phrase every time they heard another simple phrase. The kids were on board, with loud and enthusiastic responses. Two kids also appeared on stage for short cameos.

A piano was placed stage right, where Matthew Gemmill accompanied the singers with flair. The production was directed by Elise Sandell, who kept the action moving but also made it easy to understand. The sets were designed by Lauren Nigri and the cosumtes by Noël Huntzinger.

Four afternoon performances were given at the Studebaker Theater in the Fine Arts Building downtown. I attended the first of these, on Oct. 14. The opera will now travel throughout Chicago as part of Lyric Unlimited’s “Opera in the Neighborhoods” for 30 performances in 15 different locations. Students in grades 3 through 6 — from CPS, charter schools, private schools, as well as home-schooled kids — will have a chance to see it. Even the program is designed for kids, with puzzles, a glossary, and interesting educational sections. The Field Museum is an educational partner in the production. Bravo to Lyric for helping to create a new generation of opera lovers while giving kids a fun and educational story at the same time.

For more information on Lyric Unlimited, visit lyricopera.org/lyricunlimited.