FAUST AND THE 'FREE WORLD'
MADELINE JENKINS MILLARD tells the tale
of Tresa Waggoner and the Bennett Six
What could possibly happen in the tiny prairie town of Bennett, Colorado to attract international media attention? Tornadoes? A tsunami? The discovery of Osama Bin Ladin? Actually this current event has a plot as old as the Salem witch trials. Six of Bennett's citizens are accusing a music teacher of devil worship for exposing their children to Charles Gounod's 1859 opera, Faust. No matter that Tresa Waggoner was hired to do just that. No matter that she is an opera singer and qualified to teach the subject. Not only were the worthies of Bennett ignorant of Wolfgang von Goethe's version of Faust, a morality play where good triumphs over evil, but they are certain it 'glorifies Satan in some way'; therefore, Tresa Waggoner must go.
This tale began in December 2005, but did not attract media attention until Waggoner was suspended from her job on 30 January 2006. Within four days, a Google search for 'Tresa Waggoner' produced 213 listings. Waggoner teaches music appreciation to students in first through twelfth grades and, anticipating a visit from Opera Colorado's educational outreach team, she had begun introducing her students to opera. The mischief erupted when she showed approximately twelve minutes of a children's videotape about Faust to 200 six-through-nine-year-olds.
Waggoner had discovered the video from the Who's Afraid of Opera? series in the school library. It features Dame Joan Sutherland who introduces three puppet friends to the stories behind Faust and Rigoletto, then performs their highlights in complete costumes and sets. After each vignette, the diva returns to the puppets to discuss the next example. The spoken word is in English; the singing is in French. School staff had pre-approved Waggoner's use of the video in her lesson plan. On 9-11 January 2006, Waggoner showed her first, second and third grade classes five excerpts from the video, totaling approximately twelve minutes, in classes that are only twenty minutes long.
Copyright © 16 April 2006
Madeline Jenkins Millard, Colorado USA