Opera Workshop sets Mozart’s Music to Fairy Tale in ‘Pinocchio’

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – The venerable children’s story “Pinocchio” has never sounded better than when adapted to include the operas of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Dr. Ellen Denham, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi professional assistant professor of music, is director of the Opera Workshop production of “Pinocchio.” Denham said the production features nine singers and an instrumental ensemble performing music from some of Mozart’s best-known operas: “The Magic Flute,” “The Marriage of Figaro,” “Don Giovanni,” and “The Abduction from the Seraglio.”

“This is some of the most gorgeous music ever written,” Denham said. “It actually works so well musically that you can take different words and tell a totally different story. In our production, we have Pinocchio, Geppetto, the whale – all of your regular Pinocchio characters coming to life through the music of Mozart.”

Sophomore voice major Joy Puumala, who plays “Cricket” in “Pinocchio,” said staging an opera over the course of a semester is something of a minor miracle given all the tasks required to pull together a quality production. Students in Opera Workshop are required to work on sets twice a week.

“It’s amazing when you think about it. There’s only a few of us in Opera Workshop and so we get really close during the semester,” Puumala said. “It takes a lot of commitment so you if you do sign up, you have to be ‘all in’ – it’s gotta be something you can give all your time to in a semester.”  

Sophomore music education major Jordan Kuzmack plays Geppetto, the elderly woodcarver who creates Pinocchio. Kuzmack said Opera Workshop students rely on their own creativity to build sets.

“A lot of our set is made using things we find around the music department so that it’s cost-effective, but we also get help from the sculpture and theatre departments,” Kuzmack said.

Denham said the adaptation is set in modern times, with references to today’s digital culture that both children and parents will appreciate.

“In one scene, Pinocchio gets tricked into going to a video game island where he can play a lot of video games and watch TV and not have to go to school,” Denham said. “So, while the story is geared toward children, there are things in there that will appeal to adults, too.”

Denham said “Pinocchio” is her second children’s opera production as director of the Opera Workshop; the class staged “Hansel and Gretel” in spring 2018. Opera Workshop is designed to cover multiple aspects of performance for the singing actor, which includes instruction on role preparation, character development, acting, movement, and improvisation.

Puumala said the production’s dual-layer approach means young viewers will enjoy the updated retelling of a favorite fairy tale even as opera fans are mentally name-checking Mozart’s arias along the way.

“When the whale swallows Geppetto, he is singing the most dramatic part of ‘Don Giovanni’ where the lead character gets dragged down to hell – so it’s kind of funny,” Puumala said. “The change in Mozart’s text to Pinocchio references adds an element of humor to it.”  

If you go

The Opera Workshop at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi presents a modern-day reimagining by Denise Page Caraher of the classic fairy tale originally written by Carlo Collodi in 1883; "Pinocchio" is directed by Dr. Ellen Denham, professional assistant professor of music, and conducted by Dr. Jose Flores, associate professor of music. The showtime for “Pinocchio” is at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 4, and Friday, April 5, in the Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $10 for adults/$8 for seniors/$5 for students and military with ID.