About 150 youngsters collaborated with members of the Wolf Trap Opera Company to make up an opera Tuesday morning at the Wolf Trap Theater-in-the-Woods. The exercise, designed to show kids what opera is all about, produced a creation called "The Wizard's Pool."

Using a "Mad Lib" process of filling in blanks, the children decided that the two main characters would be a wizard and a janitor who lived in a castle, that the main action would be swimming and that the villain would be a mean lifeguard. With these instructions, the vocal quartet, soprano Maureen McKay, mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey, tenor Jason Ferrante and baritone Alexander Tall, retired to plan while WTOC Director Kim Pensinger Witman transformed the audience into a band of timpani, trumpets and violins and rehearsed crescendos and decrescendos.

Before the story took shape, however, the kids learned that if they liked to sing, and if they liked to tell stories, they already liked opera. To choose the music for the opera, each soloist sang excerpts from two arias and the kids got to characterize what they heard -- happy or sad, loving or angry or silly. They then chose one of each pair to be sung in their opera. Their tastes tended toward the sad and the mad. Given the choice of overtures, they chose Rossini's "Barber of Seville" over Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro," and they learned when and how to shout "brava," "bravo" or "bravi" (and used their new knowledge liberally throughout the rest of the performance).

The opera, at its first (and probably last) performance, was a happy improvisation that, unlikely as it might seem, made some sort of magical sense of the unlikely combination of characters and action. Witman accompanied the whole thing, improvised recitative and all, on an electronic piano, and the soloists performed with powerful communication skills and great good humor. The kids seemed enthralled.

-- Joan Reinthaler