Madeleine choristers step it up for festival performance

'Shoes for the Santo Niño' • Opera director praises young singers' professionalism.
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Utah Opera returns to the Madeleine Festival tonight with a performance of Stephen Paulus and Andrea Fellows Walters' 35-minute opera "Shoes for the Santo Niño." Choristers from the Madeleine Choir School also are featured.

Commissioned for New Mexico's statehood centennial in 2012, "Shoes for the Santo Niño" is based on a children's book by Peggy Pond Church. The story expands on a popular legend about the Santo Niño de Atocha, a statue of the child Jesus with perpetually worn-out shoes. In Church's tale, Julianita, the youngest of 11 children who is finding her place in the world, decides to investigate the phenomenon.

"Her faith makes the statue come alive," said director Kathleen Clawson, who directed the opera's world-premiere performances in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The boy invites Julianita to accompany him as he goes about secretly doing good deeds, and the two meet several animals — a horse, a burro, a mouse, a jackrabbit. As Julianita learns each animal's purpose, she realizes that she, too, "is made exactly as God wants her to be," Clawson said.

The Santo Niño explains to Julianita that although some people don't believe in miracles, he and his fellow saints perform small miracles daily "just to keep in practice, so that when the world needs miracles again, [they] will be ready," she said. The opera closes with the lines "milagro; estaremos listos" — "miracle; we will be ready." Though the opera is in English, it contains a sprinkling of Spanish words whose English translation is clear in context, she said.

"The story appeals to all ages," Clawson said. "It speaks to finding miracles in our lives every day."

The director had high praise for the young singers of the Madeleine Choir School and their director, Melanie Malinka. "They are truly young professionals," she said. "The music is complex, and they are doing a brilliant job of it. They're disciplined and wonderful young musicians."

Utah Symphony associate conductor Vladimir Kulenovic will conduct the singers and small orchestra. Utah Opera's Resident Artists, a quartet of young professionals, will fill the adult roles in the opera and will perform a short program of Spanish art songs on the program's first half. —

Opera in the cathedral

Utah Opera teams up with the Madeleine Choir School to present the short opera "Shoes for the Santo Niño." The opera company's resident artists also will sing Spanish art songs.

Where • Cathedral of the Madeleine, 331 E. South Temple, Salt Lake City

When • Sunday and Monday, April 28 and 29, 8 p.m.

Admission • Free

Next • The festival continues Sunday, May 5, with a presentation by playwright and author David Kranes titled "A Playwright's Education — the Winding Journey between I and We."