The New York Philharmonic’s Young People’s Concerts™ —made famous by Leonard Bernstein on live television in the 1960s—has been a family programming tradition. In its present iteration, the Concerts have evolved into multimedia, interactive experiences at Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall on select Saturday afternoons. So one can only imagine our excitement when the New York Philharmonic asked us to partner with them!
The collaboration’s objective was to bring to life visually Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen. We immediately thought of Ms. Wittels’ illustration class at neighboring Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts and partnered teaching artist Nehprii Amenii, a Brooklyn-based puppeteer, artist, writer and director with the students.
The 11-week residency kicked-off with the high schoolers researching and familiarizing themselves with the opera. They quickly realized that this was not a children’s story. The creative process included sketching and drawing whatever images came to mind while listening to the opera, meeting with the show’s director, Doug Fitch, and engaging in dialogue with him about his vision for the production. Fitch suggested the students focus on the landscape of the story.
Nehprii also communicated with the director, speaking about visual concepts and concluding that shadow puppetry would be the most compelling way to convey continuity of the landscape with the images projecting onto the venue’s big screen. Gradually, because the students included flying creatures as part of their imagery of a forest, 3-d birds became a part of the staging—mechanical birds that would “fly” among the audience—and dragonflies created by the patrons during a puppetry workshop prior to showtime.
After two on-site rehearsals at the Hall with the Philharmonic, our LaGuardia students helped tell the story of The Cunning Little Vixen at its final performance on January 12 for a full house. The students, the puppetry and the music united to deliver a stunning performance, much to the delight of the young and young-at-heart.