The Florentine’s world-premiere children’s opera, A Busy Bee, will bring to life the story of Bella the Honeybee, as she searches to find her purpose and her role in the hive. This locally-produced new work is commissioned in conjunction with SHARP Literacy, and is based on the children’s book of the same title.
The Florentine Opera’s Studio Artists will take A Busy Bee on the road to more than 16,000 young people in Southeast Wisconsin, for nearly 100 performances between January and May 2018. Most of these performances are free or low-cost to the schools and community venues that host our Opera in the Schools tour.
We are able to share the magic of opera with these children through donations from people just like you.
Each performance of A Busy Bee needs a $500 sponsorship. Each residency requires a $1,000 sponsorship.
For the past decade, the Florentine has engaged and inspired children in kindergarten through fifth grade with its series of operas based on popular fairy tales. This program has only grown. Your support will help us “create the buzz” for A Busy Bee, nurture the audiences of tomorrow, bolster creative and academic skills, make science learning fun, and expand cultural horizons for the next generation.
Ask a fourth-grade student in many Milwaukee Public Schools if they have ever seen an opera, and thousands will resoundingly respond “Yes!” because of their involvement with the Florentine. Many students have seen an entire cycle of great Florentine productions created especially for young people. Hundreds of MPS students will even tell you that they have had the inspiring experience of singing in the opera as members of the chorus.
Milwaukee’s Grammy Award-winning Florentine Opera Company is producing A Busy Bee as a fully-costumed and staged children’s production with the same attention to excellence that we pursue in our main stage work. Then, our dedicated education manager and team of teaching artists work with schools to enrich the program through a wide variety of pre and post-performance activities. We are designing the program to be flexible and to allow teachers the opportunity to customize the experience to meet their curricular needs.
This year, the Florentine has partnered with SHARP Literacy to commission the locally-produced children’s opera, A Busy Bee. Based on one of the children’s books written by SHARP Literacy students, A Busy Bee tells the story of Bella the Honeybee, on her quest to find her role in the hive. Students learn about finding a purpose, while also learning about scientific topics like pollination and bee colonies. The Florentine’s staff pianist, Ruben Piirainen, has composed the score and written the libretto.
Our cost to build, produce, and send our talented musicians to more than 65 schools and community venues costs approximately $171,000. With major support from the United Performing Arts Fund, the Herzfeld Foundation, and other foundations, your support of this Kickstarter campaign will make A Busy Bee happen!
Teachers love the Opera in the Schools program because the Florentine travels to their school, thus eliminating their travel costs and reducing their time out of the classroom. Each school receives comprehensive curricular workbook resources, along with assistance integrating pre and post-opera performance activities into their curriculum. Every performance also culminates with an interactive talk-back between the artists and the students. At a growing number of schools, teachers have signed up for additional residency activities that engage their students directly into the opera’s chorus. This assures that students become part of the process while learning additional academic and stage skills.
Lyrics have been written in easy-to-understand English, and the music is tuneful and accessible. Every musical number provides a positive message or theme that students can discuss in language arts and/or civics classes, as well as fun scientific facts about bees.
Be part of our “Busy Bee Hive”! Give generously to bring this fun and informative work to thousands of young people.
Ruben Piirainen Composer/librettist/pianist
Ruben Piirainen is a Milwaukee-based pianist, composer, music director, and music educator. He holds the Bachelor of Music degree in piano performance from the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music. He also holds the Master of Music degree in piano performance from Bowling Green State University.
He has an wide-ranging list of accomplishments in the area of music education. He was a stage director for several seasons at the internationally-acclaimed Interlochen Arts Camp, where his students performed two of his original musical revues. He spent several seasons at the Skylight Music Theatre as Education Music Director, working with students of all ages as a Teaching Artist and contributing original musical compositions to the ongoing student/professional collaborative songbook called KidsWrites. He has also worked with Present Music's Creation Project as a composition teacher and he music directed numerous shows for Milwaukee area high schools, including Shorewood High School and Milwaukee High School of the Arts.
He has recorded extensively for the Hal Leonard Corporation, has contributed to a recording on the CRI label of chamber music by Jennifer Higdon, and is featured on an independently-produced CD of what may be the only full-length album of songs by French composer Georges Auric. He has many years of experience with the Florentine's Opera in the Schools tour as the company's staff pianist.
William Florescu General Director and Stage Director
William Florescu has been General Director of the Florentine Opera Company since 2005. Prior to that, he was General Director of the Lake George Opera from 1999-2005, and the Columbus Light Opera from 1993-1999.
Companies he has guest directed for include Hawaii Opera Theatre, Nashville Opera, Opera Columbus, Lake George Opera, Opera Birmingham and Kentucky Opera.
He is also active as an adjudicator and master teacher for institutions such as The Metropolitan Opera National Council, Fort Worth Opera, University of Michigan, Eastman School of Music, Westminster Choir College, Shreveport Opera, Opera Birmingham, Opera Columbus, Rutgers University, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the Classical Singer Convention.
He is committed to new opera, having been a co-commissioner of Ned Rorem’s Our Town for Lake George Opera (now Opera Saratoga). In March of 2010, he produced the Midwest premiere of Robert Aldridge’s Elmer Gantry. The Florentine Opera recording was commercially released on the Naxos label in 2011, won two Grammy® Awards in February 2012, and was named to the Opera News Top 10 recordings of 2011 list. In October 2010, the Florentine produced the world premiere of Rio de Sangre by Don Davis (the composer of the music for all three of The Matrix films). This was commercially released on the Albany Records Label, and was also a Grammy winner. This past June, the Florentine’s recording of Carlisle Floyd’s Wuthering Heights was released on Reference Records to outstanding international reviews and has been listed in the Top 10 Best Opera Recordings of 2016 by Opera News. The Florentine’s recording of Aldridge and Garfein’s Sister Carrie, which Florescu directed, was released on The Naxos label in September.
Mr. Florescu is also active as a writer. He has had articles published in Classical Singer Magazine, and in several Opera America publications.
Scott Stewart Chorusmaster
Mr. Stewart has been the Associate Conductor and Chorus Master of the Florentine Opera for over thirty years, coach of the Florentine Studio Artists Program, Musical Director of Florentine Opera Summer Series, and Program Director of the Florentine Opera High School Master Class program. He studied choral conducting with Margaret Hawkins; orchestral conducting with Kenneth Schermerhorn; private independent study with Roberto Benaglio, former Chorus Master of La Scala and the Dallas Opera. Mr. Stewart is a 2012 recipient of the Civic Music Association’s Distinguished Citizen Professional in the Arts. Conducted Florentine educational performances of L’Italiana in Algeri, The Barber of Seville, Hänsel and Gretel, Doctor Miracle and The Impresario. Has penned many educational in-school programs and developed new outreach programs for the Florentine Opera, as well as adapted and re-orchestrated operas for young audiences.
Mel Benson Costume Designer
Mel Benson has been the costume designer for the Florentine Opera’s educational tour, and the costume shop manager, for the past six years. She holds a bachelor’s from the University of Northern Colorado and an MFA in Costume Technology from the Professional Theatre Training Program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She has also designed the BMO Harris Holiday display in downtown Milwaukee for the past seven years. Previously, she worked at First Stage Children’s Theatre.
Rachel Blaustein Soprano
Soprano Rachel Blaustein hails from Olney, MD and recently received her Masters Degree from the Peabody Conservatory. Earlier this season, Rachel was seen as a studio artist with Kentucky Opera singing Peep-Bo in The Mikado and she made her debut with Fort Worth Opera in their Frontiers Showcase. In the 2015-2016 season, Rachel was a studio artist with Opera Santa Barbara and returned to Des Moines Metro Opera for her second season. Previously, Rachel was a studio artist with Chautauqua Opera and has won awards from The Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions as well as the Harold Haugh Light Opera Competition and Partners for the Arts, Inc. This is Ms. Blaustein’s debut season as a Florentine Studio Artist.
Ashley Puenner Mezzo-Soprano
Recent highlights of Ashley Puenner’s career include Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro and Carmen in Le Tragédie de Carmen with University of Kansas Opera. Ms. Puenner was also a young artist with the Janiec Opera Company at the Brevard Music Center where she was seen as the Beggar Woman in Sweeney Todd and Zerlina (cover) in Don Giovanni. While with the Janiec Opera Company, she also participated in a workshop performance of Sister Carrie. Her appearances with the Florentine include Mrs. Hurstwood in Sister Carrie (world premiere and recording). Ms. Puenner recently performed a concert of new American operatic works from the Florentine’s recording anthology at Opera America’s National Opera Center in New York City. This is Ms. Puenner’s second season with the Florentine Opera.
Edward Graves Tenor
Recently received his Performer Diploma at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music where he studied with Patricia Havranek. In February 2017, he made his tenor debut at Indiana University Opera Theater singing the role of Grimoaldo in a new production Handel’s Rodelinda conducted by Gary Wedow. He earned a Bachelor of Music degree from Towson University, where he studied with Aaron Sheehan, and a Master of Music degree from Indiana University. Last year, he transitioned from baritone to tenor. Previous appearances with IU Opera Theater include Haly in Rossini’s The Italian Girl in Algiers, Dr. Falke in Die Fledermaus, and Prince Yamadori in Madama Butterfly. He was recently a young artist at the Glimmerglass Festival, where he sang the role of Peter and cover the role of Robbins in Porgy and Bess as well as the role Fred in Oklahoma!
Nathaniel Hill Baritone
Baritone Nathaniel Hill, from Ohio, is excited to be joining Florentine Opera for their 2017-2018 season, appearing in The Merry Widow, Venus & Adonis/Dido & Aeneas, The Prince of Players, and The Magic Flute. Nathaniel spent the summer of 2017 at the Seagle Music Colony, premiering “Guildenstern” in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Herschel Garfein. He previously spent three summers at the Aspen Music Festival, where he appeared as Breedley in Bolcom’s A Wedding, Grégorio in Roméo et Juliette and covered Marcello in La bohème. Nathaniel was also a Studio Artist at Madison Opera for their 2015-2016 season, performing in La bohème (Customs Sergeant), Little Women (Mr. Dashwood), and The Tales of Hoffmann (Hermann). In the winter of 2017, Nathaniel was a Young Artist at Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre, covering Alfio in Cavalleria Rusticana. Previously, Nathaniel sang the role of Papageno in a touring production of The Magic Flute. He received his education at Indiana University (B.M.), and Northwestern University (M.M.).
Risks and challenges
Opera remains one of the most expensive art forms to produce.
However, with your help, we will overcome that barrier to produce and tour A Busy Bee for thousands of young people in Southeast Wisconsin.
We must raise our $50,000 goal on Kickstarter to receive any funds through this effort!
Your help will make this wonderful story come alive, to enrich the lives of children through opera.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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