Boulder Opera, Composer Chappell Kingsland Collaborate On Performances for Children

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Photo: Chappell Kingsland, composer
Composer Chappell Kingsland

A night at the opera house can last for hours. Denver composer Chappell Kingsland set out to write something for shorter attention spans.

“The Firebringers” is an opera designed to be performed for children. It tells three stories in 35 minutes.

It features the big gestures of opera: colorful costumes, dramatic scenes, and sweeping music. But it moves more quickly.

“You can have some glorious singing that lasts 30 seconds and kids can be right with you and following the whole time,” Kingsland says.

Boulder Opera will perform “The Firebringers” several times along the Front Range this month:

  • Feb. 4: Stewart Auditorium in Longmont, 2 p.m.
  • Feb. 5: Louisville Center for the Arts, 1 and 3 p.m.
  • Feb. 11: Canyon Theater in Boulder, 2 p.m.
  • Feb. 25: Center for Musical Arts in Lafayette, 3 p.m.

It tells the story of fire myths from around the world -- including the Greek myth of Prometheus, who steals fire from Zeus.

Kingsland says the key is to keep the mood fun. When an eagle torments Prometheus, it’s a silly moment, not a scary one. The audience gets to become a part of the show. The performers point at the audience and the kids have to say, “Ew!” at a particular moment.

“The eagle is eating Prometheus’s liver every day. It’s kind of gross,” Kingsland says. “And so the only way to make that not just horifying and something that they’ll tell their parents there’s this horrible thing they saw is to make it funny instead.”

That means the liver is a piece of fabric with a frowny face on it that the eagle pulls out of Prometheus’s fake wound.

Kingsland says the children’s opera isn’t necessarily simpler than operas he’s written for grown-ups.

The onstage visuals combine with the music to create really powerful storytelling -- something that resonates for a room of well-behaved adults or an audience full of giggling children.

Watch an excerpt from a 2015 Mile High Opera production of "The Firebringers:"

Find more upcoming performances on CPR Classical’s events calendar.