As I sit down and rest for the first time in a number of days, I’m struck with the juxtaposition that I witnessed between yesterday and today. Last night was the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s opening performance of Le Nozze di Figaro, followed by the Opera Ball. It was my first time attending the Ball and I had a blast! It’s probably the only time I will ever enter a room to the sound of my own personal trumpet fanfare (although I did ask my roommate, who came as my date, to make some equivalent grand sound whenever I enter her presence at home. She responded with an eye roll). It was a crazy, long day, which went late into the night. This morning, I woke up begrudgingly to my alarm, spiffed myself up, and headed downtown to warm up for a very different kind of performance.
A colleague of mine from the Ryan Center and I headed out to the Warrenville juvenile detention center for girls. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has a relationship with the center and a wonderful program called Storycatchers Theater. We were invited to join Maestro Ricardo Muti and three of the CSO musicians to perform for some of the girls and a number of invited guests. I had no idea what to expect.
We arrived to the sounds of the girls involved in the Storycatchers program rehearsing a song to share with us before our performance began. Storycatchers produces original musicals with text based on the lives and experiences of the girls. It gives them a voice and a positive way to express their story. When they performed for our group, you could see their pride and joy, tucked into the silliness and awkwardness of teenagers. I loved every minute. Maestro Muti then took the floor and had the girl’s complete attention. He engaged with them in a beautiful way that balanced speaking their language and teaching them his love of classical music. If any of the girls spoke out of turn, he stopped what he was saying and asked them their name, complimenting the beauty of the name or asking them questions. These girls enjoyed and respected him in a way that surprised me.
We performed a couple of mozart arias, a duet from Don Giovanni, and I sang Un bel di from Madama Butterfly. After explaining the plot and the piece, I sang the aria, with Muti at the piano. When I finished, he asked me to read the english translation of the text to the girls and asked if they wanted to hear the aria again, this time with a deeper understanding of what I was saying. When one boisterous girl said “noooo”, Maestro invited her to sit by him at the piano and spoke the english translation to each line as I sang it again. He taught them how to listen to classical music. It was beautiful. We then saw amazing performances by three CSO musicians that had the girls completely enraptured!
Afterwards, there was a cake reception with the girls and invited guests. Maestro sat and talked with the girls for nearly an hour; they felt so comfortable with him. I had a number of girls come up to me, introduce themselves, and share how much they enjoyed my singing and how they also love singing. One girl said the Butterfly made her cry: “The GOOD cry”, she insisted. With each interaction I had with these beautiful young ladies, I found myself feeling both sorrow and hope. The fact that these bright, wide-eyed young girls are in a maximum security detention center before they even reach adulthood, breaks my heart. But you can see hope in their eyes. They love music, want to learn, and have plans for themselves. And they are surrounded by people passionate about giving them a second chance.
It was fascinating to go from the glamour of the Opera Ball to the other world of a detention center within 24 hours. Both performances were important, but there are few compliments I have received that are better than those from the girls today. It’s amazing that Maestro Muti takes the time to interact with and teach these girls the love of classical music. I’m hoping to, if my schedule allows, get out to see the performance of their original musical in November. It also encouraged me to keep finding ways to give back and give the gift of music to those who can’t come to the opera. What a wonderful way to spend a Sunday.