Moorestown boys to star in Opera Philadelphia production

Ethan Lee and Evan Schaffer are part of Opera Philadelphia’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Evan Schaffer (left) and Ethan Lee (right) are both performing in Opera Philadelphia’s upcoming production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Schaffer is playing Mustardseed while Lee is one of the fairies in the ensemble.

For 13-year-old William Allen Middle School students Ethan Lee and Evan Schaffer, opera wasn’t necessarily something on either boy’s radar. They enjoy singing and have dabbled in acting, but until the opportunity presented itself, opera was never a thought. This February, however, the pair will perform an opera in front of thousands.

“The chance for someone of those ages to stand on stage at the Academy of Music for potentially over 2,000 people, I’d imagine it’s pretty electrifying for them,” said Elizabeth Braden, chorus master at Opera Philadelphia.

On Friday, Feb. 8, Schaffer and Lee will perform in Opera Philadelphia’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Schaffer is acting in the role of Mustardseed, a fairy servant to the Fairy Queen, and is one of four boy soloists. Lee is starring as one of the fairies in the all-boy choir.

The opera — based on a Shakespearean play — follows four interconnecting plots set in the forest of Athens. The comedy has love triangles, a case of mistaken identity and magical transformations.

Both boys sing in the Philadelphia Boys Choir & Chorale, and when Opera Philadelphia approached Jeff Smith, the choir’s artistic director and and conductor, asking for 20 boys to join its production, he suggested Lee and Schaffer. This is Lee’s second production with Opera Philadelphia, having previously starred in “Carmine.”

“Ethan and Evan both are strong singers, and they learn music quickly” Smith said. “They’re hard workers. That’s why I picked them.”

The rehearsals have been long, with the boys practicing for two to three hours at a time, but thus far, the experience has been a rewarding one. Unlike the choir, where the boys just sang, both Schaffer and Lee are now being called upon to act, which is a new challenge.

“In an opera, there’s a lot more interaction. It’s a different feeling than a choir where all the energy is coming from your face,” Lee said. “In an opera, you use your whole body to express yourself.”

Schaffer said learning how to sing and dance without losing his breath has been a fun challenge. His character plays the recorder, so he’s also had to learn the instrument for the role, and since the play calls for accents, both boys have learned how to deliver their lines with the proper British pronunciation.

“It’s one of first times I’ve acted on a professional stage. I have sung on stage for the Philadelphia Boys Choir, but this is a totally new experience,” Schaffer said. “It’s fun, and I’m learning a lot.”

The boys agreed the production is a fun one with both of their roles calling on them to play mischievous characters. All in all though, the most rewarding part of the experience for both Schaffer and Lee has been making new friends.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” opens Friday, Feb. 8 at the Academy of Music and runs through Sunday, Feb. 17. Tickets are on sale. To find out more or to purchase tickets, visit https://www.operaphila.org/whats-on/on-stage-2018-2019/midsummer-nights-dream.