Two weeks ago, five brave Resident Artists journeyed to Piute, Wayne, and Garfield counties to bring opera to the children of this beautiful yet remote region of Utah. The Utah Opera Resident Artists (Baritone-John Buffett, Pianist-Daveth Clark, Mezzo-Sishel Claverie, Soprano-Jennie Litster, and Tenor-Andrew Penning) go on 5 week-long tours throughout the year. While on this most recent tour they gave twelve performances in five days for approximately 1,000 students and teachers. The remote location of this tour gave the Resident Artists the unique experience of performing for two very small schools of eleven and fifteen students, each with only one teacher. The students were very appreciative of the entertainment and the teachers told the artists on multiple occasions, “these kids so rarely get programs like this.” Students at Escalante Elementary in Garfield County showed their appreciation by coming to school dressed in their Sunday Best.
During the tour, while they weren’t performing, the Resident Artists spent their free time exploring their beautiful natural surroundings. This included a hike in Capitol Reef to a lookout of Chimney Rock. It had just snowed and our Mexican mezzo, Sishel Claverie, got her first real experience with trekking through snow. The whole gang discovered that they should have brought along proper footwear.
Evenings included home-made meals and intense games of Hearts and Settlers of Catan. The communities were also very hospitable, allowing the Artists to practice for upcoming auditions and concerts in their churches and schools.
On the drive from Boulder to Escalante the young artists made frequent stops at scenic overlooks to get out of the van, take pictures, and read the information at these sights. They learned that before the road from Boulder to Escalante was built, supplies and deliveries between the towns were made via mule-trains. The artists found this very amusing since one of the pieces they perform in their “Opera Star” program for the elementary school kids is called “The Muleteer Duet,” from Offenbach’s La Perichole. Every time this duet is performed, Andrew Penning always explains to the kids that “a Muleteer is basically a delivery man who uses a mule to carry his deliveries,” and further he explains, “a Mule is a combination of a horse and a donkey.” So at their last show at Escalante Elementary, John Buffett, who was hosting the “Opera Star” performance, added the historical anecdote about mules and Muleteers in Escalante. During this show we also took a moment to observe that the time was 11:11 on 11/11/11 and that we should all make a wish.
After the last concert the Artists parted ways with John, Andrew, and Daveth heading back to Salt Lake City via Bryce Canyon National Park, while the girls, joined by Education Director Paula Fowler and Assistant Tracy Hansford, took the same journey home the following day after doing some more exploring in the Escalante area. Taking in the spectacular views of the hoodoos in the giant natural amphitheater of Bryce Canyon was certainly a fitting end to a magical tour.