All 80 students from L’Ecole Francaise du Maine of Freeport will perform at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 12, in a children’s opera in front of what is sure to be an appreciative audience, at the Franco American Heritage Center in Lewiston.

Julien Joubert’s “La Maison du Vieux Leon” will be part of the monthly “La Rencontre,” French for “gathering,” at the Franco Center. The catered luncheon is $8 but the 40-minute performance in the 400-seat auditorium is free, and all seats have been reserved.

Willy LeBihan, principal at L’Ecole Francaise du Maine, said that people of French heritage – such as those who live in Lewiston – are sure to appreciate the performance.

“They’re just amazed to see young people speak French,” said LeBihan, who is the school’s founder. “It’s a school project. It’s a tradition in French schools to do a project that brings together the whole school. They take music appreciation from preschool on. And it’s across the whole curriculum.”

L’Ecole du Francaise du Maine, located in South Freeport village, has students in pre-kindergarten through Grade 6. According to its website, it is the only French immersion school north of Boston. All academic subjects are taught in French by native speakers of the language.

Joubert, a Parisian, wrote “La Maison du Vieux Leon” in the 1990s. It tells the story of a group of youngsters going camping, and then the school bus breaks down. They find a map that leads them to an old house belonging to Leon in the middle of the woods. But they wonder who Leon is.

Teachers have important roles in the production, as well. Piano teacher Peter Dugas will provide the music for the opera. Music teacher Joelle Morris, an opera singer, is the music director and director, while teacher Elodie LeNezet will play the lead role of a teacher. Art teacher Dasha Betts helped the students with props.

“It’s a nice way to incorporate art construction,” LeBihan said. “They’ve been working on building a house. The key element in the story is that old house lost in the middle of the woods.”

Mamie Whittier of Cape Elizabeth and Madeleine Moser of Falmouth are two of the students in the big cast. Whittier, a sixth-grader, said that “La Maison du Vieux Leon” will be her first production.

“It’s really fun to work with the other kids and do the songs, and do the dances with them,” Whittier said. “We’re doing hand gestures. We’re going camping and we get lost, so it’s fun to do all sorts of noises. We’ve been working on it for a while, and I think people are going to enjoy seeing it.”

Moser, a fifth-grader, enjoyed painting the background scenes.

“I like making scary faces in the tent, of an owl and a wolf,” Moser said. “We get to sing and dance around and have fun.”

The opera took much planning, and help from high places.

In April 2013, LeBihan contacted the French Ministry of Education of the North American zone, arranging professional development training in music and performing arts. Nicholas Saddier, music curriculum coordinator for the city of Paris, organized a three-day workshop at the school in December 2013. From January 2013 to this past January, students worked on choral singing, techniques, theater skills, stage blocking and dance choreography. Teachers Celine Fournier, LeNezet and Morris guided the training sessions.

More training ensued last fall, and in January and February, students and teachers busied themselves with the fabrication of costumes and set, as well as rehearsals.

Now, it all comes down to Thursday.

“The kids are so excited,” LeBihan said.

Students from L’Ecole Francaise du Maine in Freeport stand in front of the house they created for the stage that will be used in “La Maison du Vieux Leon,” a French opera they will perform this week in Lewiston. From left are Graycen Begley, Danika Hluska, Ry Dean, Madeleine Moser, Alev Yilmaz, and Mamie Whittier, Malika Ragon-Wright and Zoé LeBihan, standing. Courtesy photo


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.