Standing in the middle of the Paramount Theatre on Nov. 30, Clack Middle School choir director Shalesia Brown had a flashback to 10 years ago when, as an ACU student, she was on stage performing the lead role in the same opera her students were watching.

Clack fine arts students joined fine arts students from Craig, Madison, and Mann middle schools at a performance of the opera, “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” an opera in one act commissioned by NBC and first performed by the NBC Opera Theatre on Dec. 24, 1951, in New York City at NBC Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center. The opera was broadcast live on television from that venue as the debut production of the Hallmark Hall of Fame, and it was the first opera specifically composed for television in the United States.

It was 10 years ago when Brown played the lead role as Amahl’s mother in a performance for Abilene ISD students, and those memories washed over her as she watched her students experiencing the opera. 

“It was an amazing experience as a student to sing such a powerful role,” Brown said. “I thought it was a great role reversal to now be the teacher bringing the students to see the role. My students were so proud to hear that I had done it before.”

About 1,800 6th through 8th-grade students packed the Paramount to watch the one-hour performance, a story that tells of the night the Three Kings, following the star to Bethlehem, stop for shelter at the home of Amahl, a poor, crippled shepherd boy who lives with his widowed mother. Inspired by the Wise Men’s tale of a kingdom “built on love alone,” Amahl offers his simple gift to the Christ Child.

For many of the students in attendance, it was their first opportunity to experience an opera, something Brown said is important in their educational experience.

“Many of my students have never been introduced to opera as their knowledge of music is very limited,” she said. “From this experience, I wanted them to gain a broader view of expression through music, and to realize the success that comes with live performances by hard-working individuals who take their craft seriously.”

And while operatic music probably isn’t on the playlists of most of her students, she wanted them to understand this form of music takes a unique skill set to master.

“So many of my students enjoyed the storyline and were enamored by the singers’ voices,” Brown said. “I wanted them to see that, while this form of music takes incredible skill, they are just as capable if they take the fundamentals that we work on in class every day and apply it to their efforts.”

Abilene Christian University students under the direction of Dr. Rick Piersall performed the opera for the middle school students. Abilene ISD Executive Director of Fine Arts Jay Lester said the appreciation of the art form is one of his goals for having the middle school students attend the opera.

“I want them to connect with the performers and have a greater appreciation of music performance,” he said. “The opera combines elements of the stage, instrumental music, and especially vocal music. It’s my goal that the students have a greater experience and realize that they can attend college to study music and theatre if that is what interests them.

Opera is one of the highest art forms available combining set design, lighting design, music, and acting,” Lester said. “I want our students to learn to appreciate opera as a viable art form and one that has value in today’s world.”