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Normandy third graders wrote an opera — and they’re putting ‘the wolf’ on trial

Aiden Westbrook plays the role of The Wolf on Tuesday during a performance of “The Big Bad Day,” an original opera written by Jefferson School third graders, at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Aiden Westbrook plays the role of The Wolf on Tuesday during a performance of “The Big Bad Day,” an original opera written by Jefferson School third graders, at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.

By the end of third grade, many students transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Further, they use writing to a greater extent to help tell stories and they begin to comprehend more complex literary works.

For third graders at Jefferson Elementary in the Normandy Schools Collaborative, part of their learning this year is a unique opportunity to write the libretto to an original one-act opera, “The Big Bad Day,” inspired by the childrens book “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs” by Jon Scieszka.

This isn’t an everyday school recital. The students are working with professionals from Opera Theatre of St. Louis and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. The opera will have its public debut tonight at the Touhill Performing Arts Center at University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Opera Theatre of St. Louis’ work at the school began in early September.

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Miya Norfleet
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Valerie Smith is a teaching artist with Opera Theatre of St. Louis and Suzanne Palmer is the fine arts director at Normandy Schools Collaborative

“Those children came back every class period…and they came with it! They knew their parts, they asked questions and we troubleshooted,” explained Valerie Smith, a retired longtime music teacher who is a teaching artist with Opera Theatre of St. Louis.

Smith and Suzanne Palmer, the fine arts director for the Normandy Schools Collaborative, used Opera America’s “Music! Words! Opera!” curriculum to write the libretto. Together they extended Scieszka’s modernized take on the classic fable “The Three Little Pigs” and put the wolf on trial for huffing and puffing and blowing down houses.

While the special curriculum is designed for older elementary students, that didn’t stop the third grade students’ creativity flow. “You know the creative minds of children…[a student] yelled out, ‘Maybe [the wolf] has corona!” Palmer said. “Valerie and I couldn’t write fast enough.”

Jefferson Elementary third graders also learned about the musicality of opera and combining multiple genres of music — hip hop, blues and traditional operatic styles included. “I know when [people] say ‘opera’ there’s a certain audience that gravitates to opera and we all appreciate traditional opera. But when Valerie brought in the music I thought, “Oh my goodness! This is more like ‘Hamilton,’” Palmer said.

The debut of “The Big Bad Day” also features fourth and fifth grade students and members of Normandy High School’s band as well as professionals from the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.

For more on introducing opera to younger audiences listen to our conversation with Suzanne Palmer and Valerie Smith on St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, or clicking the play button below.

Normandy third graders wrote an opera — and they’re putting ‘the wolf’ on trial

Related Event
What: “The Big Bad Day”

When: 7 p.m. Nov. 29

Where: Anheuser-Busch Theater at the Touhill Performing Arts Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis

1 Touhill Cir, St. Louis, MO 63121

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org.

See photos from "The Big Bad Day" captured by Brian Munoz below:

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Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Shannon Eberts, an art teacher at Bel-Nor Elementary, puts the finishing touches on 4th grader Heaven Kennell, 9, on Tuesday before Kennell plays a cat in the Normandy School District’s performance of the “The Big Bad Day,” an original opera written by Jefferson School third graders, at the Touhill Performing Arts Center in Bellerive.
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Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
Shannon Eberts, an art teacher at Bel-Nor Elementary, puts the finishing touches on 4th grader Journey Brew, 9, on Tuesday before Kennell plays a mouse in the Normandy School District’s performance of the “The Big Bad Day,” an original opera written by Jefferson School third graders, at the Touhill Performing Arts Center in Bellerive.
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Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
Sherdell Williams, a 17-year-old student from Normandy High School, talks to classmates while warming up on Tuesday before a performance of “The Big Bad Day,” an original opera written by Jefferson School third graders, at the Touhill Performing Arts Center. Normandy High School band students play alongside St. Louis Symphony Orchestra musicians for the show.
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Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
Sokhna Doing, a 5th grader at Jefferson Elementary, left, gets her tiara fastened by Suzanne Palmer, fine arts director for the Normandy Schools Collaborative, on Tuesday before a performance of “The Big Bad Day,” an original opera written by Jefferson School third graders, at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.
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Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
Heaven Kennell, far right, a fourth grader at Bel-Nor Elementary School, prepares to go onstage alongside her classmates on Tuesday during a performance of “The Big Bad Day,” an original opera written by Jefferson School third graders, at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.
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Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
Journey Brew, a 9-year-old fourth grader at Bel-Nor Elementary School, right, rests her hands on a fellow cast member as the wait to take the stage on Tuesday during a performance of “The Big Bad Day,” an original opera written by Jefferson School third graders, at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.
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Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
Suzanne Palmer, fine arts director for the Normandy Schools Collaborative, addresses hundreds of students on Tuesday during a performance of “The Big Bad Day,” an original opera written by Jefferson School third graders, at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.
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Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
Aigner Wilson, a fourth grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary School, glances over at her students on Tuesday during a performance of “The Big Bad Day,” an original opera written by Jefferson School third graders, at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.
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Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
Sokhna Doing, a 5th grader at Jefferson Elementary, performs her role as “Crystal Pig” on Tuesday during a performance of “The Big Bad Day,” an original opera written by Jefferson School third graders, at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.
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Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
Valerie Smith, a teaching artist for the Opera Theater of St. Louis, runs through selections of “The Big Bad Day,” an original opera written by Jefferson School third graders, on Tuesday at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.
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Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
Ta’Niya Leonard plays her role as the bailiff on Tuesday before a performance of “The Big Bad Day,” an original opera written by Jefferson School third graders, at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.
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Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
Chloe Blount plays the role of Bella Pig on Tuesday during a performance of “The Big Bad Day,” an original opera written by Jefferson School third graders, at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.
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Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Aiden Westbrook plays the role of The Wolf on Tuesday during a performance of “The Big Bad Day,” an original opera written by Jefferson School third graders, at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.
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Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Ahmad Smith, a 15-year-old junior at Normandy high School, plays the cello on Tuesday before a performance of “The Big Bad Day,” an original opera written by Jefferson School third graders, at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.
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Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
Tory Thompson, a 16-year-old Junior at Normandy high School, plays the trumpet on Tuesday before a performance of “The Big Bad Day,” an original opera written by Jefferson School third graders, at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.
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Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
Jeffrey Parks plays the role of the judge on Tuesday during a performance of “The Big Bad Day,” an original opera written by Jefferson School third graders, at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.
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Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
Chloe Blount bows after playing the role of Bella Pig on Tuesday during a performance of “The Big Bad Day,” an original opera written by Jefferson School third graders, at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.
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Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
The cast of “The Big Bad Day,” an original opera written by Jefferson School third graders, acknowledges the pit orchestra on Tuesday at the end of their opening performance at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.

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Miya is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."

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