Saturday, June 12, 2004

Students at the Patricia M. Sitar Center for the Arts belted out arias with the gusto of divas at the opening of an original production titled “A Change of Heart” yesterday at the First Church of Christ, Scientist in Northwest.

Family and friends filed into a spacious room located on the church’s lower level to watch the 30-minute opera that was written and produced by 11 youths who live in the District’s Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights neighborhoods.

The young opera aficionados got a hand from Washington National Opera professionals who provided 16 weeks of nuts-and-bolts training to help them create and produce their very own opera.

Peter Burroughs, artist-in-residence for the Washington National Opera, said he focused on the writing and the editing of the libretto. The students worked in small groups and borrowed some music from Rossini’s “La Cenerentola” but wrote their own lyrics.

In addition to the experience gained from creating and staging the production, Mr. Burroughs said the students also recognized numerous career possibilities in opera, from make-up to set design.

Yesterday, the audience got to meet the stars onstage: Inez Koberg, 12, portraying “Jordan,” a popular cheerleader, and her studious loner sister, “Jasmine,” played by Emily Jordan, 10. Jasmine is jealous of Jordan’s popularity and refuses to help her sister pass a math test. The plot turns after the two girls watch a TV newscast about a tragedy involving two sisters similar to themselves. Soon afterward, Jordan and Jasmine change the dynamic of their relationship for the better.

“It was also fun writing the libretto because everyone in class contributed ideas and then we came up with the script,” said Inez, a sixth-grader who attends Oyster Elementary School.

Rhonda Buckley, executive director and founder of the Sitar Center, was beaming as she presented an armful of roses to the performers after the show.

“This is our first time offering opera and the young people clearly love it,” Ms. Buckley said.

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