Matt Cooksey is a first-year master’s student in opera production at Florida State University. As part of his training to be a well-rounded professional, he and his classmates are taught about design, costuming, lighting and other aspects of production. He has taken his study one step further and, inspired by the 19th-century opera “Beatrice and Benedict” by Hector Berlioz, he created a new interpretation for young audiences.
Cooksey explained his process: “I had to pick the musical numbers, figure out the structure of the show, and get to work basically writing a completely new libretto. All of the lyrics were mine, the dialog is mine, so it was a pretty huge undertaking.”
The original comic opera by Berlioz is largely based on Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” and Cooksey believes its themes are particular wellsuited for teenagers. “We go around carrying baggage about should I really say what I mean? Should I come out of my shell and say this is who I am? I think it’s a human anxiety and I wanted to provide a platform for these students to see that it is OK.”
Through the FSU Opera Outreach program and with the help of a six-person cast and a pianist who provided live accompaniment, Cooksey was able to present his work to students in several schools across the city. Though the show was written with middle schoolers in mind, Cooksey found an eager audience at Cornerstone Learning Community, where nearly 200 pre-K through eighth-grade students enjoyed the production, performed in their outdoor theater.
Cornerstone seventh-grader Evan Marty has been involved in musical theater for most of his life. He said, “I don’t have a great voice but I’m interested in seeing how opera works and all the ranges people can have.” Sixth-grader Tyson White was also impressed by the singing but was even more taken with some of the technical aspects of the show. He said, “I enjoyed seeing how the scenes changed.”
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