Seven students from Whitmore Charter High School in Ceres are part of the crew of "Madame Butterfly" which will be performed at the Rogers Theater of the Gallo Center for the Arts in downtown Modesto.
The Valley's opera company, Townsend Opera, is staging the production with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, April 27 and 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 29. The cast includes international, national and regional level opera singers, a full chorus, orchestra, international opera singer Roy Stevens as stage director and includes the participation of young and leading dancers from Central West Ballet.
Nine teens - seven of which are Whitmore Charter High students - are either members of the chorus or extras.
"There are several wonderful, talented young teen performers that will participate in this opera as part of the excellent chorus and also as highlighted extras," said Roy Stevens, an international opera singer from Modesto. "They will contribute a great deal to the performance. They are special and Ceres should be proud of them."
Stevens and his wife, Annalisa Winberg, also an international opera singer, are directors of the production.
Three of the teens were prize winners at last summer's Valley Talent Project at the Gallo Center and another was recently a medalist as a solo musical theater singer at the statewide Linnaea Theater Festival.
The seven Whitmore Charter students are Luca Mitchell, Roy Mendiola, Marie Conners, Katie Osterhout, Brylan Finley, Caroline Fletcher and Bob Lo.
All of the teens are in the chorus singing in Italian, except for Osterhout who is responsible for handling a large number of props. Katie also performs a complex task on stage as one of Madame Butterfly's servants.
"Many in the cast do not even realize that these teens are, in fact, teens, because they are so serious about their work, such solid musicians, singers and actors," said Stevens.
Junior Luca Mitchell said he loves the show "because of how the musical beauty transcends the language barrier and allows a connection through music beyond language."
Mitchell competed as a pianist in the Valley Talent Project at Gallo Center last summer, playing his own composition. He won the Modesto View Original Composition Award.
Bob Lo and Roy Mendiola play sailors and manage to be very funny in the opening sequence of the opera. Both musical students offered a comedy piano duo that was a huge hit at the 2017 Valley Talent Project at Gallo and captured the Modesto Bee Audience Favorite Award for their "The Bog & Roy Duet."
Lo, a senior, said Madame Butterfly has been one of the coolest operas he's been involved in. "Opera is something I never thought I would try but once I've started, I can't stop. Operas are too fun and a great experience to be part of. I have gotten to make so many new friends and rekindle old friendships. All the main cast is super fun people and know how to make everyone laugh. I am going to miss the performance when it is over."
Chorus member Brylan Finley, who recently was a medalist for Musical Theater Solo at the statewide Lenaea High School Theater Festival in Folsom, plays one of Prince Yamadori servants.
"Participating in Madame Butterfly has been a wonderful experience in all aspects," said Finley. "I thoroughly enjoy all of the people involved, and I am extremely excited to perform at Gallo again."
Mendiola, a junior, enjoys the music, calling it "gorgeous and very powerful. And it is always so much fun to be a part of the storytelling with talented people."
Junior Marie Conners called the experience of practicing an "awesome experience."
"I've always loved to sing and to listen to all kinds of genres of music," said Conners, "but Madama Butterfly has given me a deeper appreciation for opera. Everyone involved is so talented and dedicated to making this show great."
Freshman Katie Osterhout saw her first opera when she was seven and was drawn in. She noted that participating in Townsend Opera's Madame Butterfly has been a "dream come true."
"I have learned so much and have met some truly amazing people."
Caroline Fletcher, another junior, enjoys rehearsals and is excited about the show.
"It's different from other shows I've done with Townsend because, one, it's in Italian and, two, I am an individual chorus member who has to create my own character."
Adult cast members include Stevens, Christopher Bengochea, Guillermo Garcia, Jr., Donn Bradley and Kelsi Schuller who return to Modesto's stage along with newcomers Ashley Bell, Linda Baird, Nathan Stark and Larry Zabel.
Nathan Stark, who plays the Bonze, is from Hughson. He has performed with opera houses throughout the United States, including the Metropolitan Opera, Cincinnati Opera, Dayton Opera, Atlanta Opera, and Fort Worth Opera. Stark has given recitals throughout the United States and Germany, as well as concerts at the Great Wall of China, the U.S. Colombian Embassy, U.S. French Embassy, the U.S. Austrian Embassy and the Washington National Cathedral.
"People who simply dismiss opera as a strange and stilted art form completely miss the fact that it is a highly complex endeavor involving incredible amounts of vocal training, musical knowledge, stage acting skills, discipline and high level cultural complexity," said Stevens.
Townsend Opera was founded in 1983 by Modesto native Erik Buck Townsend, a graduate of Modesto High School, who had a successful international career as an opera singer.
Tickets are $15 to 69 and available at www.galloarts.org or at the door.