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Lyric Opera presents ‘Don Pasquale’ in kid-size edition

Dress rehearsal Donizetti's 'DPasquale' with Ildebrando D'Arcangelo (right) title role Corey Crider as Dr. MalatestWednesday November 21 2012. I Stacie

Dress rehearsal of Donizetti's "Don Pasquale" with Ildebrando D'Arcangelo (right) in the title role and Corey Crider as Dr. Malatesta on Wednesday, November 21, 2012. I Stacie Scott~Sun-Times Media

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‘POPCORN & pasquale’

When: 2 p.m. Sunday Where:

Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker

Tickets: $20-$40 ($10-$20 for children under 12)

Info: (312) 332-2244;

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Updated: January 3, 2013 6:18AM

With offerings that can run more than 2½ hours and an ornate singing style that can seem alien, opera is not always the most kid-friendly of art forms.

But Lyric Opera of Chicago is out to change that with a special presentation Sunday called “Popcorn & Pasquale.” The first-ever program offers a 70-minute take on the company’s current production of Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” that’s geared to children ages 5-12.

Adding further appeal are the ticket prices, which are considerably less than for a typical Lyric Opera presentation.

“What we’re really hoping to do is to create a very family-friendly environment so that opera lovers or first-timers who are coming with their children or grandchildren can just relax and have a great time,” said Cayenne Harris, director of Lyric Unlimited. “Popcorn & Pasquale” is one of the first projects of Lyric Unlimited, a new department within the opera company devoted to expanding its education and outreach activities.

If the presentation proves successful, it could spur more such offerings in upcoming seasons. So far at least, it does look like a hit, with more than 2,500 of the 3,563 seats in the Civic Opera House already sold.

“We’ve seem a lot of interest in this particular production,” Harris said, “and it’s definitely sending a signal that offering programming for families is something that we’d like to do in the future.”

“Popcorn & Pasquale” was developed during the past six months by Harris and Mark Riggleman, Lyric’s director of education, with David Kersnar, founding member of the Lookingglass Theatre Company, and Jacqueline Russell, artistic director of the Chicago Children’s Theatre.

This version of the 1843 opera conveys the comic love story in highly abridged fashion with interludes that provide explanation about what is happening both onstage and backstage.

The interjected sections feature exchanges between Chicago actor Ross Lehman, who portrays a servant in Don Pasquale’s household and serves as kind of a program host, and Nathan Randall, a 12-year-old actor who’s plucked from the audience and thrust into the production. The youngster, as might be expected, has no shortage of questions.

“His questions allow Ross to kind of guide the audience through some of the basics of opera — who the conductor is, what the orchestra does — but also helps us get into the story and explains things like the supertitles and the set changes,” Harris said.

The program’s creators made a point of keeping the program to a little more than an hour and making sure snacks will be on hand. Popcorn will not only be for sale, but for the first time, the company is allowing attendees to take it into the theater.

“A 70-minute adventure,” Harris said, “really allows children to kind of enter the world of opera, get the full experience of the chorus, orchestra, sets and costumes and a lot of the really wonderful music written by Donizetti, but without hopefully that time where they feel like: ‘Hey, I’m bored. It’s time to go.’ ”

Of course, not every opera would work for a family treatment like this. Some have sexual overtones and violent moments that simply are not suitable for children, but Donizetti’s affable creation was an ideal fit.

“It’s such a lighthearted, fun and silly plot that I think the kids will really enjoy it,” Harris said. “There is a lot of physical comedy, and it’s very approachable musically.”

Taking part in “Popcorn & Pas­quale” will be the same conductor and cast of Lyric’s current production, including bass-baritone Ildebrando D’Arcangelo as Don Pasquale and soprano Marlis Petersen as Norina. (The complete opera runs through Dec. 15.)

“So this is not in any way an alternate or watered-down version,” Harris said. “This is the real deal.”

Kyle MacMillan is a locally based free-lance writer.

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