Tonawanda News

October 26, 2012

Opera-Lytes brings Gilbert & Sullivan to local schools

By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News

NORTH TONAWANDA — On Halloween, there may not be any phantoms at the Riviera Theatre — but there will be opera.

On Wednesday, more than 800 local students will visit the theater for Opera-Lytes’ presentation of the W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan operetta “The Sorcerer,” the culmination of a program that brought members of the group into their classrooms to teach them about opera, its background and history.

Paul Waara, Opera-Lytes music director, said that this was the first year of the outreach program, something the group hopes to expand in the future.

“As a board, we’ve committed our group to not only sharing opera with the community, but we’re very deeply committed to this educational program,” he said. “Opera does have a lot that it can offer audiences. Gilbert and Sullivan in particular have a very witty libretto, plays on words, a lot of political satire ...



• WHAT: Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Sorcerer"

• WHEN: 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday (School matinee will take place at 10 p.m. Wednesday)

• WHERE: The Riviera Theatre, 67 Webster St., North Tonawanda

• TICKETS: Can be purchased at the Riviera box office, by calling 692-2413 or online at


“Music and theater in general are something that should be shared with the community. We’re very interested in making that happen.”

The comic operetta is a Victorian-era tale of a young aristocrat who believes marriage “is the cure for every ill” and hires the sorcerer of the title to make that dream become a reality, with disastrous (and typically Gilbert-and-Sullivan) results. 

In conjunction with the school visits, Deborah Jasinski, a North Tonawanda resident and retired music teacher, and Waara created a resource manual for teachers offering information about the characters and plot of “The Sorcerer,” the background of Gilbert and Sullivan, the time period in which the operetta is set, a vocabulary list and classroom questions and activities for both before and after the show.

Jasinski and fellow teaching artist Sara Kovacsi visited St. Andrew’s Country Day School and St. Amelia’s School in the Town of Tonawanda, Kenmore East High School, St. Gregory the Great School in Williamsville, South Side Elementary School No. 93 in Buffalo, Enterprise Charter School and Holland High School, all of which will be sending students to the Wednesday performance.

“The whole idea is that a prepared audience is a good audience,” said Jasinski, who also plays Lady Sangazure in the production. “The more they know, the more they’ll get out of it. And what better way to prepare than to have a character come in?”

The artists presented lessons in the background and history of the opera, character development and rhyming schemes, and took a look at tongue-twisters (and demonstrated in the form of one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s classic “patter songs” — in this case, “My Name is John Wellington Wells” from “The Sorcerer”).

Jasinksi said it’s all to give students a chance to open their minds to something they might otherwise not experience.

“To me, the magic of live theater is something irreplaceable,” she said during a recent visit to St. Andrew’s. “They’re so used to everything being virtual. This is all using your imagination, the sets, the lights ... all the aspects of live theater. To me, that is the greatest thing. They’re pretty responsive to it.”

They’re not the only ones. St. Andrew’s teacher Mark Kobel said he’s looking forward to the performance as much as the students are.

“They get into a groove on the kind of video games they like, the TV shows they watch, but nobody ever shows them something different,” he said. “I’m hoping this is something that makes them listen. ... I’m just trying to get them exposed to more things that are great in our society, and opera isn’t a bad thing. 

“It’ll be an learning experience for all of us. That’s what I’m hoping for.”

For their part, students at St. Andrew’s said they were both surprised at the lessons and had a lot of fun with them.

Fifth-grader Liliana Dietz said it wasn’t quite what she expected.

“I learned that opera is more than just singing in very high-pitched tones,” she said.

In addition to the Halloween performance, public performances of “The Sorcerer” will take place Saturday and Sunday at the theater. For tickets or more information, call 692-2413 or visit