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<<  -- 3 --  Madeline Jenkins Millard    FAUST AND THE 'FREE WORLD'


Not until she received a phone call from Casey Goodwin, did Waggoner realize she was the target of a vendetta. 'The mother said: "I don't understand why you wouldn't let the kids sing Christmas songs but yet you'll teach them about the devil. Are you not a Christian?" And I thought, is that what this is about? I had no idea it would escalate to this.' It was the school's winter concert, which had taken place before Christmas. Waggoner, the school district's choral director, had planned the concert in the spirit of inclusivity: 'Being in a public school, you don't want to leave anyone out. Therefore, the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Jews, the atheists -- you really steer away from singing songs about the birth of Jesus. And that's left to your own private religion. What's so ironic is that I did celebrate through music at my church, but not at school.' Four days before the concert, Cory Babi had phoned Waggoner, 'threatening there would be problems if there were not Christmas songs,' Waggoner recalls.

Waggoner reported Goodwin's phone call to the school principal, who instructed her to write a letter of apology to all the elementary school parents, which she did. 'I was definitely not sensitive to the conservative nature of the community, and I've learned that,' said Waggoner. At that time, Superintendent Sauter told the media the teacher should not have shown the video to children below the fourth grade, but that she was in no danger of losing her job.

In an attempt to relieve the situation, parents were invited to view the video. It backfired. Neither school administrators nor parents had inquired as to which parts of the opera the children had seen. So with the entire video at their disposal, ignorant of Faust, and unable to understand the French libretto, the Bennett Six fueled their stake burning with even more paranoia. 'Any adult with common sense would not think that video was appropriate for a young person to see,' said Robby Warner, mother of two children. 'I'm not sure it's appropriate for a high school student.' Counters Waggoner: 'I don't think my administrators could even tell you the story of Faust. We're dealing with people who have doctorates, yet once told me that a video about Leonardo da Vinci was inappropriate for high school seniors.' Tresa Waggoner was placed on paid administrative leave until the school board could meet to determine her fate.

Collateral damage included the cancellation of Opera Colorado's visit to Bennett. 'Let's put it this way,' Opera Colorado marketing director Becky Lathrop told The Denver Post's Jim Spencer, 'Bennett canceled the Opera Colorado production of Island of Tulipatan. My understanding is that the opera has what are called 'pants roles', where girls dress as boys and boys dress as girls, and they weren't comfortable with that.' Peter Russell, Opera Colorado's general director, added: 'If you want a bumpkin meter, there it is. Island of Tulipatan has no purpose except to make people laugh. It has as much to do with transvestites as a Joan Sutherland tape has to do with exorcism. If they don't get that in Bennett, there's no question who's afraid of opera. And it isn't the kids.'

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Copyright © 16 April 2006 Madeline Jenkins Millard, Colorado USA


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Classical Music Programme Notes for concerts and recordings, by Malcolm Miller