The students peppered the performers with questions.
For an hour, the two opera singers had filled the gymnasium of East Ridge Middle School with the sounds of an operatic version of “Romeo and Juliet,” the noted Shakespearean play.
But, what really brought the house down was when a student asked the two singers about their most embarrassing moment.
Darius Thomas, a tenor who has been performing opera for more than a decade, said it happened for him while doing a performance of “West Side Story.”
He boldly went on stage and performed his monologue. Then he noticed something afterward.
“I did the performance with my fly down,” he said.
The middle school gymnasium burst out with laughter.
For the third year in a row, the Knoxville Opera made an appearance in Hamblen County as part of its educational outreach program. The last time the Knoxville Opera came to Hamblen County was in May for a rare treat as the opera company performed a more than two-hour long show for more than 1,000 Lakeway Area students that included opera classics and Disney musical numbers.
The past two years, the opera company has come to Hamblen County middle schools and performed “Lucia” and “Turandot.”
This time, the company chose “Romeo and Juliet,” the tale of the two star-crossed lovers that meet a fatal destiny at the end when they find their love can never be fulfilled due to their feuding families.
Thomas, played Romeo, and soprano Teresa Castillo took on the role of Juliet as Brian Salesky, executive director and artistic director of Knoxville Opera, accompanied on piano.
The stop in Hamblen County, for performances at East Ridge and West View, was the first part of what will be a three-week educational outreach tour for the opera company when it visits several East Tennessee schools and community centers.
Salesky said Knoxville Opera and Hamblen County schools are becoming more familiar and comfortable with each other. They now know expectations from each other, he said.
“The nice thing about coming back is it starts to feel like home to you,” he said.
The performances will continue as long as Salesky is director of the Knoxville Opera, he said, and there are already plans for a year from now.
“As long as I’m involved with Knoxville Opera, I plan to keep coming, that’s my commitment to it,” he said. “I know next year, we’re already planning ‘The Barber of Seville.’”
The two performers for Wednesday’s performance were hired on a contractual basis for the tour. Castillo hails from Colorado, but now lives in New York City. While Thomas lives in Texas.
But, Thomas is familiar with East Tennessee. He is a University of Tennessee graduate.
“I’ve been in this area before,” Thomas said.
Both have worked educational outreach programs before. Castillo said she hopes that the performances help give the students a cultural experience.
“You don’t realize you like something or you can’t say you don’t like something until you listen to it or try it or experience it,” she said.
Thomas said he is a product of outreach himself and finding the singing style he loves to perform.
“I don’t hope that every child becomes an opera singer, but I hope that every child has an appreciation for it that they will show their families and maybe their future children and take them to the theater to see future opera singers,” he said.