HOOPER — Lanette Sharp urged her Hooper Elementary School fourth-graders on Tuesday to do their best, to keep their focus and to break a leg.
“That’s what they say in opera,” Sharp told her students. “Break a leg.”
Several classes filed into the auditorium of the 660-student school for the world premiere of “Basketball Bullies,” a 12-minute opera crafted by Sharp and her 27 students.
Sharp chose the theme, bullying, and students voted on settings, selecting one that cast them as basketball players and cheerleaders, each with a coach.
Students wrote the words of the opera, painted the sets and selected their leads.
“I was nervous,” said Tiernan Greenman, 10, who portrayed a basketball player shunned by his peers for his habits of two-handed shots and singing opera, “Tra-la-la-la,” as he scored.
Tiernan’s nervousness tip: “I just stared at the back wall.”
Abbi Sanford, 10, played a cheerleader who was more into ballet and cartwheels than into her peers’ beat-heavy chants.
“I pretended everyone was naked,” Abbi said later, inspiring a loud chorus of giggles among her classmates.
Her father, Jared Sanford, could barely believe it as he watched his daughter’s solos, in the first of three performances.
“She’s shy,” Sanford said. “She has a hard time telling waitresses her order when we eat out.
“I think this opera has helped her grow up a bit, and it’s turned her proud dad into a big sap.”
Molly Nicholas said her daughter Kathryn, 10, even learned through the audition process.
“She was so nervous the first day, she sang too quietly,” Nicholas said.
“She belted a song the next day, and students voted for her to play the coach. It’s good for her to see she can be her own person.”
This is Sharp’s ninth year creating operas with her students, with guidance from the Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre’s “Opera by Children” program.
“It flows into the language arts program,” Sharp said of the Opera by Children coursework.
“It really builds the children’s confidence, and it increases their core test scores, especially in language arts. I’ve seen some students come up a grade level, and they are much more confident when they do oral reading. Every child who is involved experiences tremendous growth.”
Sharp said many of her students go on to perform on stage in their years at Rocky Mountain Junior High and at Fremont High School.
“And I’ve noticed that kids who are involved with music and fine arts stay in school longer,” Sharp said.
Pamela Gee is the Opera by Children director, and she attended the first “Basketball Bullies” performance. Gee said that, through the program, Utah classes have created 163 original works this school year.
“It’s an entry point for the arts,” she said.
“Some students discover they love music, or writing or painting. By the time they perform their opera, they own it and they are ready to investigate their new interest more on their own.
“I’ve seen miracles happen through this program,” she said.
“The children learn trust, risk, affirmation and growth. This program has touched 60,000 students over 16 years.”
Back in Sharp’s classroom between performances, students recalled the stage moment they had enjoyed the most.
One boy said he liked “fouling” another student on stage, giving Tiernan’s character a chance to join the game and score the winning shot.
Tiernan said he enjoyed the fake bullying, when every player was shaking a finger at him.
Then there was the one shining moment that meant the most to multiple newly minted opera stars: Their audience’s standing ovation.