“Madame Butterfly” Enchants Fifth Graders

The art of operatic storytelling came to life for the fifth grade class on January 8 when they attended the final dress rehearsal of Puccini’s celebrated classic “Madame Butterfly” at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center.

Elise Vargas ’31 couldn’t contain her delight at what she saw. “I thought it was straight up majestic,” she said. “A lot of people focus on the singing and the high notes in opera, but honestly, people should focus more on the story, the foreshadowing, the design, the details, everything - I loved it all so much!”

For Greyson McCuddy ’31, attending his first opera was all that and more. “I liked the music and how the performers sang. It was sad and happy at certain parts - a mix between both and it was very dramatic.”

In preparation for their trip to Madame Butterfly, the 15 students studied the synopsis and characters, listened to and sang various selections and learned about the many dimensions of performance that make opera the ultimate collaborative art form. This is all part of the grade’s yearlong interdisciplinary study of ancient Egypt and opera music, culminating in their own puppet opera in the spring. The class just completed their libretto and will start composing the music this week in class. 

The middle school team responsible for the annual fifth grade puppet opera - performing arts coordinator Katie Meadows, visual arts teacher Bruce Robbins and humanities teacher Michaela Boller - accompanied the students to the Met. A special guest joined the group: upper school voice teacher and former Metropolitan Opera soloist Gwendolyn Bradley.

Bradley, who has performed in leading roles around the globe, discussed her own journey in the opera world with the students. In addition to sharing some of her favorite roles and meaningful experiences as a performer, she also spoke about the changing face of opera through the lens of race, culture and identity. 

“As our fifth graders move into the composition and rehearsal portion of our own puppet opera, Ms. Bradley urged the students to remain open, be present, leave space for all voices and build strong, trusting relationships by creating opportunities for others,” said Meadows. 

“I liked learning the process of how opera singers get through problems and how they get to where they are,” said Eben Vanderwarker ’31. 

During their visit to the opera house, students had an opportunity to tour Lincoln Center and learn its rich history. After returning to campus, they worked in small groups to reflect on and share their observations. 

“When I was really young I saw ‘Hansel and Gretel,’ but this was the first opera where I was really interested the whole way through,” shared Oliver Buck ’31. “I thought it started out nicely and at the end there was a lot of tragedy, but overall I enjoyed it. I was pretty stunned the performers were so loud without microphones, but I’m assuming it was part training and part the acoustics of the room.”

“The whole experience was very cool, especially the singing and the costumes,” said Kaya Gibson ’31. “When you entered the building and went up the big staircase in the opera house, the chandeliers were so pretty and it felt great to be there.”

SHARE Article