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Youngsters give ‘La Traviata’ a bravo

March 17, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Grand opera may not seem quite the dish for the 3-to-13 set, but more than 4,000 youngsters crowded into the Kennedy Center for two hour-long sessions Monday of Giuseppe Verdi’s ``La Traviata.″ Nobody told them to applaud, but they did.

The performance includes most of the first act.

``You should have heard the oohs and aahs,″ said one of the teachers herding 3-year-olds from a Head Start class at Washington’s Wheatley Elementary School. ``Head Start″ is the program that helps children from poor families prepare for kindergarten.

A few had to be calmed in teachers’ arms, but most managed to sit fairly quietly, apparently impressed by on-stage demonstrations of how operatic smoke, lightning and violin solos are produced.

Sixth-grader Ryan Coates, 12, who had never heard anything like it, enjoyed the singing of soprano Carla Basto best.

``She was wondering about whether she should love that fellow or not,″ Ryan explained sympathetically.

The Italian text sung by the agonizing Violetta _ a high-class courtesan of 19th century Paris _ was translated from the Italian in surtitles flashed on a screen above the stage. ``La Traviata″ translates roughly as ``The Woman Gone Wrong.″

Every year since 1991 the Washington Opera’s Education Program, now under director Debra Eileen Evans, has taken thousands of pupils from the Washington area to these programs. On Wednesday there will be two more performances for 4,000 more children.

``They don’t always behave appropriately,″ she acknowledged. ``Sometimes they giggle and hold their hands over their ears on the high notes.″

Jonathan Smith, 13, has been to two other programs _ Giacomo Puccini’s ``Madama Butterfly″ and Georges Bizet’s ``Carmen.″

``I like classical music,″ he said a little defiantly, allowing that few of his classmates do. ``I play the trombone in the school band.″

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