Teacher In Trouble Over Faust Opera
We all believe that witch hunts are a thing of the past and can not really happen in our time. In fact, they only happen in different shape and form. In 2006 it happened to Tresa Waggoner, an opera singer who was teaching first through twelfth grades in Bennett, Colorado.
It started when Opera Colorado’s educational outreach team scheduled a visit to her school. To introduce the students to the opera, Ms. Waggoner went to the school library and picked one of the “Who’s Afraid of Opera?” series video. School pre-approved the use of the video in her lesson plan and she showed her first, second and third grade classes five excerpts from the video. It all barely totaled about 12 minutes but at the moment of writing this, Google shows 600+ pages discussing events that ensued.
The tape she has shown contained clips from the opeara “Faust”. Kids saw the first part in which Faust makes a deal with Mephistopheles (Devil), then the video was fast forwarded to the folk dance segment. Children described it as ‘happy, not scary’. Next was the mezzo-soprano role of Siebel, the page which the teacher used to discuss the period costimes with children. Sutherland’s performance of Marguerite’s ‘Jewel Aria’ followed and the whole thing was closed with the part where Marguerite is joined by Mephistopheles and Faust. ‘And then I do let them see her ascend to heaven,’ said Waggoner. ‘And how I ended the whole class was: “This is a morality play of good versus evil, and good prevailed. She went to heaven.”‘ Later on, Ms. Waggoner said “I didn’t have one negative comment. I didn’t have one fearful child. Not one child was scared or crying or asking to leave”. Still, this turned out the be the overture for trouble.
Shortly after kids saw the video, the school superintendent George Sauter received complaints from some parents that their children were exposed to a satanic video, while others reported that their kids had nightmares. One of the mothers, Cory Babi claims: ‘My child came home and asked me what “abortion” was and what “suicide” was.’
It didn’t seem important to her that neither of those two words are used in the video (parents were later invited to see the vdeo, but more about that later). Another mother, Casey Goodwin called the teacher up and said “I don’t understand why you wouldn’t let the kids sing Christmas songs but yet you’ll teach them about the devil. Are you not a Christian?”
Then someone made the situation worse by suggesting that parents have a look at the whole video. This time it didn’t seem important to anyone that kids only saw 12 minutes worth of clips, not the whole video, so this distortion just made parents conclude that the video (from school library) was unfit for kids.
To make the long story short – community is divided. Tresa Waggoner was suspended and most people of Bennett, Colorado stands by their teacher. One of those is Chandra Mynick, a mother of two children (who both saw the video and survied). She wrote the following to BloggingBaby.com: ‘When I asked my youngest if anything in this video scared him, he replied: “No, it was a fairy tale.” These are the exact words of a first grader. I have taught my children the difference between real life and make believe. It is very sad that a teacher who tries to expose children to life outside of Bennett is punished for it. I am a proud Christian and believe in this teacher. I will be attending the board meeting tomorrow night along with other supporters of Tresa.’
So, what should a teacher play to kids without risking to end up in the news?
Let’s try another opera. For example, the tape Ms. Waggoner played to the kids also discussed another opera – Rigoletto, but we can’t recommend that to teachers. That opera is about a joker Rigoletto who was cursed for mocking a father pleading for the return of his dishonored daughter. Whether by curse or not – Rigoletto’s daughter gets seduced and abducted by a ritch man so he hires a professional assasin to deal with it. The bummer is – assasin kills Rigoletto’s daughter by mistake.
So – don’t pick Rigoletto dear teachers.
How about “Norma”? Its aria “Casta Diva” is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful opera arias and regularly appears on lists such as this one with 40 most beautiful arias and those who consider it the ultimate bel canto opera are never challenged.
Oh, wait a minute. Is that the opera where Pagan Druid seer Norma has illegitimate kids with Roman proconsul, and then when he “falls for a younger chick” Norma decides to kill the children and herself and then…
Never mind… moving on.
How about “Lakme”. Even British Airways adopted the melody of its aria Flower Duet for their commercial.
Hold on… Is that the opera where daughter of a high priest of some non-Christian religion in some far away country runs away with a foreign military officer?
How about something from Mozart. He should be safe. Austrians even make chocolate candy with his name on it. But it can’t be his “Magic Flute” even though it is one of the most successful operas ever made. It’s full of Masonic symbols, it has an aria “Queen of the night” and contains a word “magic” in its title. It also can’t be his Così fan tutte (All Women Behave Like This) for reasons we will not get into, and most certainly not his “The Abduction from the Harem “, but “The Marriage of Figaro ” should be just fine. It has a nice title, emphasizing Christian values.
Then again… it’s about Count Almaviva in Spain who… khm… has interest in Susanna, who is to be married to her beloved Figaro, the Count’s valet. Count also realizes that a young page, Cherubino has… khm… interest in the Countess, so the Count tries to shake him off by giving Cherubino an officer’s commission in his own regiment. Then Figaro, Susanna, and the Countess conspire to embarrass the Count and expose his infidelity.
Goodness gracious, imagine a kid comming from school and asking “Mom, what is ‘in-fi-del-i-ty'”. Or worse “Mum, what does it mean to have a ‘khm… interest’ in someone?’
It seems, dear teachers, that it is better to forget those fancy operas (who needs world cultural heritage of that kind anyway) and just read the kids some fairy tales.
Like Red Riding Hood about a girl who (along with her granny) gets eaten by a wolf and then a hunter cuts the wolf open with a knife and takes them both out? Or Hansel and Gretel about two kids who are dumped by their foster parents and then a witch wants to eat them and they push the witch alive into a burning oven?
You know what? Let’s just play it safe dear teachers. Did you see a movie called “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (not the version with Johnny Depp)? Ichabod Craine becomes the new schoolteacher in some remote village. As he is having a lunch with some villagers, the father of the family shares a little pearl of wisdom with him :
“My son Eric don’t need to learn to count to no more than twenty because that is all the chickens we have room for in the hen house.”
So, when you find yourself among people like that – just resort to a safe choice. No fancy operas or violent fairy tales. Here is where you can find collected works of Larry The Cable Guy (including Xmas ones ! ! !) on Walmart’s web site:
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