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A 'Little Opera' for Elementary School Kids

September 13, 2012

This is a terrific program for small children, ages 7 to 10, or between first and fifth grade: September to March — you sign up for the entire year, with no in and out privileges. It’s located at the West Portal School from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and it is usually conducted as a master class by a member of the local opera community. No more than 12 children to a class.

It all leads up to a 10-minute opera, which is completely done by kids. This is not adults in disguise or kids as puppets.

Last year’s opera was Creatures of the Night, a spooky little fairy tale about a girl who gets lost in the woods, which at first is a dreamy experience in meadows full of flowers. But then night falls and out comes a fox, a crocodile, goblins, and … a werewolf. The little girl is surrounded and about to be eaten when suddenly a sandman appears, throws sand on the moon, which reduces the werewolf to human form, and everyone is saved. The sandman takes a bow.

On the way to this scenario kids were given a starting point: Choose a location for the opera. Early suggestions included the inside of a toe, underwater, and the Hearst Castle.

The effort includes writing the libretto, composing music, orchestrating movement and dance, designing and building sets, making costumes, and putting on the show. The opera last year was performed at the Alcove Theater off Union Square, which may well be this year’s venue as well.

The mastermind of this 1-year-old company is Erin Bregman, a playwright herself, a member of PlayGround and Just Theater, and in her fifth year as a teaching artist in the ARIA program sponsored by the San Francsico Opera. ARIA is an outreach program that allows residents to find ways to partner with public school teachers. “I’m on a long leash,” says Ms. Bregman “Our program gets to be a lot more intensive than the typical ARIA program.”

Fall semester begins on Sept. 18. Register online at

Mark MacNamara, a writer and journalist based in Asheville, North Carolina, has written for such publications as NautilusSalonThe Stanford Social Innovation Review, and Vanity Fair. From time to time, his pieces in San Francisco Classical Voice also appear in  Noteworthy examples include a piece about Philip Glass’s dream to build a cultural center on the Pacific Coast; a profile of sound composer Pamela Z and an essay on the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. MacNamara recently won several awards in the 2018 Greater Bay Area Journalism Awards presented by the San Francisco Press Club.  His website is