Bella has a ball with opera

Bella Rooney was born to sing. The
spirited 12-year-old, who has just finished Year 6 at Cayman Prep, looks like
any other bright, carefree student, but when she opens her mouth and hits those
notes, all the din of the auditorium falls away. Once heard, never forgotten.

Born into a musical family, her
father Neil sang in a band in Canada and is a leading light in many of the
Cayman Drama Society’s musical productions. Mother Kelly, though not musical
herself, comes from a long line of musicians in her home town of Terrace in
British Columbia, Canada.

Bella’s musical chops presented
themselves as soon as she was able to string together her first sentences, her
father recalled: “Our earliest memories of Bella singing was when she was two
and would sing along to the Foster’s Food Fair ads and match the pitch
perfectly.”

“And when she was three, she sang
the National Song at First Baptist Christian School’s sports day without a hint
of nerves.”

Bella’s gift is being nurtured, and
she takes any opportunity she can to perform in school and local productions.
She was last year’s lead in the drama society’s production of Annie: The
Musical and most recently she performed in the world premiere of The Secret
Life of Og staged by the Canadian Children’s Opera Company.

After receiving rave reviews for
her outstanding performance in a version of the smash Broadway show Annie, both
the singer and her parents were keen to find her other roles in musical
theatre.

“After Annie and the experience she
had, we had so many parents in the audience coming up to us saying ‘You have to
let us know when you’re going to do another production for kids.’”

Mr. Rooney was searching for the
right production when he stumbled across the Canadian Children’s Opera Company.

“I struck up a dialogue with
company’s artistic director, Ann Cooper-Gaye,” he said.

“She was very curious about Bella
so I sent her a DVD of Annie and she called me back the next day and said ‘put
that girl on a plane.’”

The young singer was naturally
surprised by the invitation despite being technically gifted. A grounded child
who loves hanging out with her friends and playing with the family dog, she
earned a distinction in her Trinity Grade 2 exam in 2009, scoring 98 per cent
following vocal training under Nicky White at Cayman Prep.

Bella is also fortunate enough to
be a strong actor with a penchant for comedic roles. “One day I’d like to be a
Broadway singer and to act and sing on stage,” she said without a hint of self
doubt.

The decision to send Bella to
Toronto was quite a commitment as one of her parents had to be with her for the
entire six weeks. In five weeks of rehearsals with the company of more than 20
children ages 5 to 17, Bella excelled. She was given the roles of a pirate, a
James Bond Girl and as a chorus member. While in rehearsals, the young singer
was given a “small singing part”.

The production, which ran for a
week, staged eight performances (twice a day with an hour break in between),
played to good houses at the En Wave Theatre, which was designed by the same
architects who drafted Cayman’s Harquail Theatre.

The young student, who has a full
octave range and is a first soprano (and can sing alto), thrived in the
professional environment and got the chance to work with some of Canada’s best
opera producers.
“It was absolutely wonderful,” said Bella “I’ve never been in a production
where if a wrong note was sung everybody knew about it… even in the warm ups
all the kids were pitch perfect.”

Being with like-minded kids also
gave her the chance to exchange musical interests. And while most of the young
performers liked opera and taught Bella to appreciate the discipline, she was
in turn able to share her vast knowledge of musical theatre.

Her favourite shows include The
Producers and Singing in the Rain; “I love the combination of great singing,
dancing and acting of in Singing in the Rain… It’s my dream to become a
triple threat (good at all three skills),” she added.

These days Bella also takes tap
classes at Miss Jackie’s School of Dance.

School was very understanding and
“very supportive of our decision to let Bella perform with the opera,” said her
father. Her teachers gave her school work for the four weeks away from classes
and fully appreciated that her operatic experience represented an educational
life experience she would benefit greatly from. 
Bella even got to give other Year Six students a 20 minute presentation
about the show and Toronto.

And with the world of opera having
opened up to her, the Canadian Children’s Opera Company has commissioned a new
children’s opera with a specific part being written for Bella by the director
of Symphony Toronto, due to open in 2012.

Naturally, she’s excited having
experienced big city life which has taken her musically to another level. As
the only overseas cast member, Bella learned to be resilient.

She did so well there, in fact,
that Opera Canada, the country’s national opera company would have offered her
a part in Carmen this year had she been living in Canada.

This summer, instead of the usual
summer camp, Bella and three other children from Cayman will attend a
three-week musical theatre camp in Interlochan, Michigan. There they’ll be
performing and attending workshops six days a week and will produce a show
they’ve written themselves at the end of the camp.

Bella is also looking forward to
November when she’ll perform in a local production of the musical Little Shop
of Horrors, being staged by Cayman Drama Society.

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