Family connection brings special opera performance to Junction Elementary

Published 6:42 am Wednesday, December 5, 2018

A kid-friendly opera production is coming to Junction City Elementary School free of charge this week, thanks in part to special ties between the school principal and OperaLex.

“It’s been very well received by our kids,” said JCES Principal Pam Shunk. And for the second time, a 30-minute production is being sponsored at JCES because a special board member of OperaLex (formerly The Lexington Opera Society) is carrying on the family tradition of making sure Shunk’s students are exposed to opera music at every school where she’s worked.

The tradition began nine years ago, Shunk said, when her late father, Richard Furst, former dean of the University of Kentucky’s Gatton College of Business and Economics, was on the board of OperaLex. Both he and her mother, Jan Furst were “huge opera fans.” Now that her father is gone, her mother has taken over his position on the OperaLex board and ensures her daughter’s students are exposed to opera.

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Shunk said she, her sister and mother regularly attend opera performances together in Lexington.

At JCES on Friday, the Schmidt Opera Outreach Program and the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre is presenting a touring production of “Little Red’s Most Unusual Day.” It’s designed to address the issues of strangers and how parents’ and teachers’ warnings must always be obeyed.

According to SOOP’s website, the classic fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood” is transformed into a delightful children’s opera with music by Offenbach and Rossini and words and story adaptation by John Davies.

Having an operatic performance at the school “obviously makes the arts more available to them. They don’t always get that exposure,” Shunk said. And she hopes the students and staff can appreciate the music style more.

When thinking about opera music, Shunk said some people tend to think about actors singing songs in a foreign language and in a really high range with their hands folded in front of them.

The production of “Little Red’s Most Unusual Day” is more entertaining and like a play, Shunk said.

“I hope that they (the students) are entertained. It’s a really, really great performance and introduction to opera,” Shunk said. “When they hear that term ‘opera’ they will have some kind of connection.”