Out Of Its Shell 

Opera Memphis' Green Eggs and Ham served up at The Dixon.

Where do you get green eggs and ham in Memphis? Not on a car or in a train or on a bus or in the rain ... but from Opera Memphis.

Opera Memphis' Green Eggs and Ham, the musical interpretation of the Dr. Seuss classic, is playing at The Dixon Gallery and Gardens in conjunction with the "Art of Dr. Seuss" exhibit there. With the exception of the November 4th production, all of the shows are reserved primarily for pre-school and elementary groups in the area. And all of them are close to selling out.

"It's really taken me by surprise," says Cindy Ensley, director of education at Opera Memphis. "Usually people hear the word opera "

Ensley herself is steering clear of the word "opera" for this one due to copyright laws. "It is not technically, legally, or contractually an opera but rather a story set to music," explains Ensley. "A concert piece, but it's staged."

According to Ensley, the show is very minimal because of the protectiveness of the the Dr. Seuss Foundation over Seuss' artwork. Opera Memphis has been very careful to retain the whimsical, wacky quality of Seuss' art in the stage set without copying it. "We have fun little hats and very colorful costumes. It's very delightful."

Ensley adds, "It's a great stepping stone into opera." It has all of the characteristics but in a digestible form -- a familiar, easy-to-follow story that runs a squirm-proof 18 minutes.

The production is the original Green Eggs and Ham, word for word. The adult soprano's part is the curmudgeon who "would not could not eat them here or there or anywhere," while the child soprano's part is that of the persistent "Would you? Could you?" Sam I Am.

"What I like about this piece is the music," says Ensley. "It is so descriptive of the story. It's not just noise. This makes sense."

Green Eggs and Ham was first performed by the New Jersey Chamber Music Society in 1993 and its recording of the show has been compared with such children's classics as Tchaikovsky's Peter and the Wolf.

The music is by Robert Kapilow, the popular American composer who has written over 15 commissioned works including this, the first musical setting of a Dr. Seuss work ever allowed by the Dr. Seuss Foundation.

Part of what makes this music fun is Kapilow's decision to weave in bits of recognizable music throughout, so that the audience begins to anticipate, for example, Chopin's "Funeral March" when the curmudgeon says for the 20th time, "I do not like them, Sam I Am!"

The music for the November 4th show will be played by the Memphis Symphony Orchestra in conjunction with the Memphis Arts Council as part of its Family Arts Series. The show marks the opening of the season. Families of up to five can get into different events for $6. "We encourage families to attend," said Sandy Kozik, program coordinator for the Family Arts Series, but adds that they will accept reservations for individuals.

The rest of the shows will be done with piano accompaniment. "It's actually quite a fine reduction," says Ensley. "It's still all there." To help educate the mostly young audience, members of Opera Memphis will spend a few moments before each performance explaining the music, making suggestions on what to listen for and when and how to listen for it.

Because of the great response to the upcoming shows, Opera Memphis is now planning on touring with it in the spring.

"We've gotten such a positive response from the schools, parents, and administrators," says Ensley, "that in March, April, and May, we're taking it, putting it in a van, and driving it around to pre-schools and elementary schools."

Area teachers who are interested in taking their students to see one of the Dixon performances or to put their name on the list for the spring tour should contact Cindy Ensley of Opera Memphis at (901) 257-3100, extension 6. Inquiries on the November 4th show or the Family Arts Series should be made to the Memphis Arts Council at 578-2787 or visit their Web site at www.memphisartscouncil.org.

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