Family-friendly opera returns to Mainstage Theater this March with My Head is Full of Colors

UCSC Lecturer Chris Pratorius Gómez

UCSC Lecturer Chris Pratorius Gómez is the composer of this year’s Family Opera.

Photo credit: Steve DiBartolomeo

For almost 15 years, the University Opera Theater at UC Santa Cruz has hosted the campus’ premiere family-friendly event, welcoming over 350 children and their families annually to enjoy a special, free Family Opera for all ages. This March 12, Family Opera returns live to the Mainstage Theater for two back-to-back matinees of My Head is Full of Colors, a joyful tale of imagination composed by UCSC Lecturer Chris Pratorius Gómez, with a libretto by Nicole Paiement, and directed by Lecturer Sheila Willey, who heads up UCSC’s unique opera program, one of the very few in the United States to feature almost entirely undergraduate casts.

Based on the popular book by Catherine Friend, My Head is Full of Colors tells the story of a young girl named Maria, who wakes up one morning to find her hair has turned into all the colors of the rainbow. With a ‘head full of colors,’ she draws and paints like never before. Each day, she arises with something new and unexpected in her head, leading to great imaginary adventures, enacted by a lively chorus of eleven singers, that she shares with her loving father.

For Pratorius Gómez, who had not composed operas for children before he was commissioned by Opera Paralle to create My Head is Full of Colors and two others for its school program, Maria’s flights of imaginative fancy presented an intriguing opportunity to experiment. “Thinking about how to use the emotional, acoustic language of music to illustrate what’s in a child’s mind was fun,” he says. “There is a level of playfulness baked into childrens’ productions that is great and gives a classical composer a much bigger range to work with. We tend to be so serious when making work for adults, but it requires the same level of craft, if not more, to make something funny. Honestly, it made me a much better composer.”

The Family Opera also makes the members of the University Opera Theater better performers according to Willey. “You can definitely tell when the audience is not with you,” she laughs. “It’s such a  great exercise in how to hold people’s attention. We don’t ask that the children be quiet, so you just know immediately when you’ve lost them.”

Willey also notes that the annual Family Opera is a chance for UCSC students to get valuable production experience in everything from costumes to hair and make-up. “What I want students to know after this is that if you were ever in the position of putting together a small opera or any kind of show, you could do it,” she says.

Equally as important for both faculty members is the opportunity for the local community and its youngest members to experience opera. “Opera is a pretty special art form,” says Willey. “It combines so much—acoustic music, live musicians, costumes, sets, acting, and those very loud voices. I remember being so struck by the volume when I was a kid! It really left an impression.”

Pratorius Gómez adds, “We don’t have regular opera here in the Santa Cruz area, so for it to even get on a child’s radar, for it to be an option down the road as a listener or performer, that’s so valuable.”

My Head is Full of Colors takes place on March 12, 2022 at 11am and 1pm. The 30-minute performance is free with advanced registration. Parking is $5. Tickets can be reserved here