St. Brendan students give their all to an opera about an empowered woman

From left, Connor Kelly, Isabel Leahy, James Neff, Donovan Burke, and Gianna Scialdone.

St. Brendan School students, in association with The Boston Lyric Opera, last week produced a show about the empowerment of women, an opera entitled “The Secret Soldier” that featured fifth-grade students in the key roles on stage and behind the scenes.

The production is based on the story of Deborah Sampson, also known as Robert Shurtleff, who disguised herself as a man and became a soldier during the American Revolution to escape an unwanted marriage.

Carola Tabela, a fifth-grade teacher with a master’s in Education and Creative Arts, supervised the participating students, something she has been doing for eight years. She expressed pride in them and cited their willingness to learn and share her passion.

“They actually contribute to the writing of the music,” she explained. “So, every lyric that you hear is written by the kids and created through the kids. Some kids are purely tech kids, some kids have written a libretto, painted the stage scenery. So, we try to hit on multiple interests beside performances.”

Students also worked the lighting, wrote the songs and beats, and sewed their own costumes while learning to work with each other and get past fears of pressure.

Addison Vino, 11, was one of the actors. She liked “just getting to bond with people and learning the lines.”

Isabella Lahey, who played the lead role of Deborah Sampson said, “I learned that even though you may feel scared, it’s okay cause you know everything. Even though you mess up, it’s going to be okay. I learned how you have to really stay calm.”

All the while, the students were learning about the empowerment of women in the 18th century. “It’s a story about a woman who didn’t want to be confined to roles that society was imposing on her,” said Tabelo. “Sampson wanted to be educated, she wanted to see the world, but she had no money. It’s a very American story. Even though the Declaration of Independence might not have been written for her, she’s saying, it is written for her. That’s what people in our country have been doing ever since, which is pretty cool.”

The Boston Lyric Opera’s partnership with St. Brendan School was through its Youth Engagement Program, which give’s BLO artists the chance to directly impact youth. It comes as the BLO prepares to mount its own production of “Crossing the Line to Freedom,” a musical narrative celebrating Juneteenth that will hold its premiere on June 14.