What a nine-year-old thinks of the opera

The rain came down steadily as we rushed out to the van, ready to pick up her friend and arrive in time to park and walk to the historic State Theater in Modesto for an event combining two great loves of mine: opera and literature. Though I dared not hand over an adapted copy of “Mansfield Park” to my daughter, given its controversial themes, she knew of “Emma” and “Pride and Prejudice” from movies, BBC mini-series and Babylit books.

As an avid reader, Miriam will say the skill of reading serves many purposes from aiding the desire to be an author one day to helping one work independently in their schoolwork. She knows a world exists inside the covers of a book, allowing us to go beyond the walls of our home to touch something new. “Sometimes it can teach you things like some books can give you information about living outdoors and camping and they can also give you facts. I learned about London from The Famous Five,” she said.

She prefers to read stories that are adventurous and magical. What would a nine-year-old think of an Austen classic about love, marriage, and intrigue, with a small setting and an exteriorly small narrative?

This is what she had to say:

“It was raining. My mother and I had just set off in the car when my mother realized that it was too early. So I stayed at home and did my math and at the right time we set off in our van and picked up Grace, my friend, on the way. Then we arrived and someone showed us the way to the State Theater. There were lots and lots of seats, they went lower as there were more rows. They had some special curtains because they had no backstage. We sat down in our seats near the middle. Before the show started someone came out and told us a few facts about “Mansfield Park.” My friend Grace had a paper that told her the names of the characters, the name of a dog, and who they were engaged to and who they marry.

“The director said it was a battle over Edmund’s soul. The opera starts out with Mr. Rushworth asking Maria to marry him. In the end, Edmund asks Fanny Price to marry him. I loved it, it was so wonderful. My friend Grace and I discussed it to each other on the way back to our homes, about Fanny Price and Mary Crawford. We noticed that Mary was beautiful but she didn’t care that much about virtue. And Fanny is plain looking but she is a good woman.

“I liked the characters, how they looked, their faces. I liked that they sang instead of talked, how the story is written. It surprised me that Edmund asked Fanny Price to marry him.

Fanny Price was my favorite and so was Edmund. I liked her voice. I like how Edmund cared about virtue and his voice.”

From Opera Modesto's Production of Mansfield Park. Edmund Bertram played by Andrew Pardini with Alix Jerinic as Fanny Price. Photo by Kathryn Anne Casey
Edmund Bertram played by Andrew Pardini with Alix Jerinic as Fanny Price. Photo by Kathryn Anne Casey

The opera, offered as a free student/reader performance whet her appetite for more. She said, “I’d love to attend an opera again. I’d like to see Pride and Prejudice and I’d like to attend more of Jane Austen’s stories.”

As Opera Modesto board member, Hillari DeSchane said during the pre-opera talk, “Opera strips the story down to its skeleton and the clothes put back on our musical notes.” Bringing the story to its core makes it accessible, relatable, and human in a new way. For a girl, nine years old, it illustrated, dazzled, amused, and delighted her with its reliability, the importance of the decisions made between virtue and vice, and the talent demonstrated.

As a lover of art and literature, I know that exposure to great art and great talent broadens our perspective and offers us an experience of transcendence, taking us to a place of beauty. As a mother, to see her wide eyes, her giddy gestures, her overwhelming joy at a match made between the right people for the right reasons, fills my heart in a deeper and fuller way than I could have thought possible.

Photo of two nine-year-olds at the State Theater, Modesto
Photo by Kelly Osterhout