"Have any of you seen an opera?" Tony Lostecki of the Seagle Music Colony asked a crowd of elementary school children at Keene Central School on Wednesday. The hands of about one fifth of the students shot up, indicating both that kids in this tiny hamlet were not as remote as one might think, and that there was still plenty of leeway for developing a new audience.
The Seagle Music Colony of Schroon Lake, the oldest summer vocal training program in the United States, is one of the most outstanding and least known cultural organizations in the Adirondacks. For 96 years in its small Adirondack village, the Colony has trained opera and musical theatre artists. Founded in 1915 by world-renowned baritone Oscar Seagle, the Colony first opened at his home in Hague on the shores of Lake George. Shortly thereafter, it shifted to Schroon Lake, initially at the Brown Swan Club, and then to Charley Hill Road in 1922.
Colony graduates have performed leading roles on Broadway and in all of the top Opera houses in the country. Each season from June through August, the young singers in residence appear in a rich array of performances, a very popular vesper series, and outreach events, some of them in Lake Placid. The pity for those who work during the summer or do not live within an easy drive of Schroon Lake is that they may miss all this talent. To make sure this doesn't happen, help build future audiences and spark interest in becoming a professional singer, the Colony decided to launch a series of September in-school presentations. Keene Central School was the first to hold one outside of Schroon Lake.
"We wanted and have talked about doing a post season in-school opera series for a long time and now are getting a chance to set one up," said Tony Lostecki, general director of the Seagle Colony and pianist for their performance of Little Red Riding Hood. "We will perform in 10 schools for three and a half weeks of September. We could have done more but didn't want to bite off too much the first year. We are a bit limited by the physical camp in Schroon Lake; it isn't winterized so we have to turn off the water by mid October."
"We have three singers in this ensemble," he said. "All part of the summer program and all post-graduates, so they didn't have to get back to school. They are getting ready for their professional careers. Our main objective is to extend our mission of providing great entertainment and training young performers. We are very excited about this in-school venture and hope to expand it in future."
"I just graduated from school and the next thing I plan to do is work with young artist programs," said bass baritone Stephen Clark who plays both the Wolf and the Woodsman. "I have always been drawn to singing. It was something I felt good at. I just love it. Why, is a bit hard to explain, but it's wonderful to be able to move someone through music. As a singer I'm a bit of a middleman between the composer and audience. It's very satisfying being able to help fill others with joy."
"I perform two roles, the mother and the grandmother," said mezzo-soprano Annalize Sussman. "When I first went to college I studied pre-med. I did this for two years before I switched to music. You know, when you have that hobby that really attracts you? While studying pre-med I sang in the school choir, took voice lessons and realized that was what I really loved doing . So I left chemistry and biology and was very lucky to be able to transfer to the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. I was fortunate to study with David Holloway, who is also the head of the Santa Fe Opera where I am from."
"I love being on stage. I love storytelling through music. Being at Seagle was one of the most magical summers of my life. It was the first time in my life that all the trivial aspects of life were nonexistent. You just focus on singing and dancing. You don't have to worry about cooking, taking the bus, or anything. At this point I feel like I'm on this wonderful wave and new doors are opening all the time. I love sharing the gift of music and song. Music is so powerful. I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to do it."
"Seagle meant everything to me," said soprano Kristen Lassiter who performs the role of Little Red Riding Hood. "I took a couple years off after graduate school. So it was nice to get back to it and really focus on what I like to do. I have always enjoyed music and I love singing but never considered singing as a career until my junior year of high school. I hope our performances allow some of the kids who watch us and have never considered music as a career path to dream big."
Before the performance, Tony Lostecki gave the kids a short history of opera and then asked them if they knew what Italian word they should shout when applauding when they liked a performance. "Bravo!" several shouted and they practiced cheering a few times. Then Stephen Clark came out to introduce himself as the Wolf and serve as a bit of a warm up act to set the mood. But when he asked if the kids found the woods 'dangerous' and 'scary' they all shouted back, "No!" Clearly Little Red Riding Hood was written for urban kids. Undeterred, Clark did his best, getting them to shift their gears into a suspending disbelief which as was evident throughout the play: Every time an actor exclaimed about the sun or a rabbit running by, the entire audience stood and searched for the rabbit, rainbow, sun or whatever had been pointed out.
The kids were hooked, cheered out their Bravos! without need for prompting and had plenty of questions for the actors after the play's end.
"How did you make those suits (costumes)?"
"Does it take a lot of practice to hit the notes?"
"Where's the momma (not realizing that Sussman, playing two roles, the mother and then the grandmother)?"
"Was that axe real or fake?"
"How old are you?"
"How many performances of this show have you done?"
"Do you always do fairytales?"
"How many operas are based on fairytales?"
"Have you ever performed at the (Lake Placid) Arts Center?"
"Was that wolf skin real?"
"Have you done Three Little Pigs?"
"I thought is was a lot of fun and enjoyed the interest of kids at the end, with all their questions," said Leslie Shipps, president of East Branch Friends of the Arts, which sponsored the performance along with the High Peaks Education Foundation.
The kids loved it," said Keene Central School teacher Erin Perkins on Sunday. "They could not stop talking about it for several days after the performance."