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PDX OPERAbeat | A Company Blog is the blog for all things Portland Opera, featuring a variety of guest contributors who will provide insider's tidbits on all we do to celebrate the beauty and breadth of opera.

Trouble: The Children of Madame Butterfly

One of the pivotal cast members in Madame Butterfly is the role of Butterfly's son, called Dolore in the Italian, translated usually either as "Sorrow" or "Trouble." The role is a non-singing, non-speaking one, but presents unique challenges: according to the plot, Lieutenant Pinkerton has been away for 3 years, so the child is very young, and yet has a significant amount of acting to do.

We are fortunate to have two wonderful kids filling the role (on alternate nights) in our production: Finnegan, age 3 1/2, and Kaitlyn, age 5. Kaitlyn and Finnegan were chosen in auditions which took place earlier this season, and have been attending rehearsals during the entire rehearsal process.

Here is a photo of Finnegan at his audition:

Madame Butterfly - kids

I attended a recent rehearsal, to get a feel for what the child has to do and to watch one of the kids -- Kaitlyn, on that day -- in action. The role has several entrances and exits, has to play onstage, and pretend to sleep; gets dressed up onstage; has to submit to being picked up and carried by pretty much all the cast members. Then, of course, the child plays an enormous role in the final scene, where Butterfly commits suicide in order to preserve her own honor. It's a lot to remember for anybody, particularly a young child. They have some help: the stage managers are in the wings, reminding the children what they do next before they enter -- and I witnessed some high fives back there as well -- and onstage the principal singers can sometimes give the children guidance if they need it.

Kaitlyn in rehearsal:

Madame Butterfly - kids

Madame Butterfly - kids

For both kids, this role is their stage debut. I asked their parents: what was it about this particular experience that you were interested in for your child (or that your child was interested in him/herself)?  Kaitlyn's aunt is an opera singer -- she played Butterfly at LA Opera! -- so Kaitlyn already had an interest in the art form. Finnegan's mom grew up in theater, both onstage and behind the scenes, and wanted all her children to experience theater in some way. As it happens, Finnegan's older brother will be onstage as the Captain in Grant High School's Twelfth Night the same nights that Finnegan is onstage here with us!

Finnegan's mom, Lisa, writes: "Most importantly, Finnegan himself wanted to audition. Neither J [Finnegan's dad] nor I would have had Finnegan audition if he hadn't shown an interest in doing so. Also, we both felt that he was emotionally ready to take on the challenge and responsibilities and had the natural temperament to be an asset to the production. In a lot of ways, though, it was a leap of faith for all of us."

As for whether or not the families were opera fans before this experience: Kaitlyn's family originally became interested because of her opera-singing aunt, although the whole family has been involved in music and in acting for a long time. Kaitlyn herself "is fast becoming" an opera fan, says her mom, Jacquelyn. (We love to hear that!)

Finnegan's parents have always wanted to be more involved with opera, but this is their first Portland Opera performance! (We love to hear that too!) Finnegan loves music -- the other night in the green room, he told us that he's a big fan of Lady Gaga -- and is especially a fan of "Ms. Kelly Kaduce," as he calls her.

Are the kids having fun? I asked. Kaitlyn's mom said, YES! Very much so. (In rehearsal last week, she definitely looked like she was having a blast). The best part, says Kaitlyn, is just acting and being onstage, but remembering every single part the way it's supposed to be performed is the hardest thing so far. Are you nervous? I asked her. Nope, she says. She just thinks it'll be neat. Brave girl!

Finnegan says that he likes being in his house onstage (and thinks it's funny that he has a whole house up there). His favorite scene is … the death scene! The death scene is also the part he's a little scared about ("because the death scene is not good," he says -- we think he means that it's very intense). Sometimes he finds it hard to be quiet all the time, and sometimes the singers are pretty loud, but he's having fun. He's looking forward to everybody in the audience seeing him and thinking that he's Sorrow.

I asked the kids if there was anything else about themselves that they wanted to share with us:

Finnegan: loves Doctor Who (he came dressed as the Doctor to a recent rehearsal!), and loves playing with blocks. His favorite song is "Brother John," which he has sung with Kelly Kaduce during a rehearsal break (along with playing "Story Dice," which is also enjoyed).

Kaitlyn: loves the color pink, hamburgers, and playing with her friends. She's taking piano lessons and learning to read music -- she can play her scales, and is now learning chords. She is in American Heritage Girls at her church -- a program similar to Girl Scouts. She has an older sister named Desiree and a dog named Lenny (who, she would like me to note, is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and is "sooo cute"). Kaitlyn loves to sing and "always has a song in her heart." (We love that!)

Many, many thanks to parents Lisa, J, Jacquelyn and Steven for agreeing to let us feature their kids, and for answering my questions. Both kids have been a total delight to work with, and we can't wait to see them in performance!