If your idea of an opera is something you need a translation to understand or something that puts you to sleep, you haven't met the 4th and 5th graders of Public School 32 in New York City. They learned how to write their own stories and then, literally, make them sing.
At first glance, PS 32 in the Bronx seems a place more likely to breed discord than harmony. The noise at lunch can be deafening, the halls overcrowded, the surrounding neighborhood a blur of fast-food joints and 99-cent stores.
But inside the auditorium, the din of the city is no match for the music of 9 and 10 year olds.
"We don't want no drama," the kids sing during their final rehearsal, an opera they wrote themselves with a little help from composer Richard Pearson Thomas and director Cristina Arsuaga.
And even though they're not quite at the level of say, Luciano Pavarotti, it hardly matters.
"We're stretching the meaning of opera. Obviously, these kids can't sing like adult opera singers. This is more natural to them," says Arsuaga.
"But I think, in the truest sense of the word, it is opera, because we're using the music to tell a story," adds Pearson Thomas.
It's sponsored by an organization called "Young Audiences New York" that teams professional artists with public schools.
"I want them, for however long we can do it, to be an artist, to have the same exact creative experience. I think that's how learning really begins," says program director Gary Bagley.
So they collaborate. The students give Pearson Thomas their ideas and he sets them to music.
"I try to use as much of their writing as I possibly can," he says.
That means that in these operas, the heroes are often students and you can guess who the bad guys are.
"I play a mean teacher," says Melissa Montero.
So what is it like for Arsuaga to work with kids compared to adults? "Exhausting!" she says. But for the kids, it's exhilarating.
"It makes my stomach feel like butterflies are swimming in it. And it feels like somebody's tickling me," explains 4th grader and opera singer Dayquan Dorrell.
"I always thought operas were just boring and I can't even understand them. And they keep going high and low voices. But when Cristina and Richard came, I thought differently about operas. Like I thought it was better," notes another student.
After 15 weeks of writing and rehearsal, the big performance seems short, just a few minutes on stage in front of an audience of parents and peers. But the effects are enormous.
"I think that I'm learning how to speak up and speak my mind," says Dayquan.
When asked what is the one thing Pearson Thomas wants the kids to take away from the experience, he says, "The tangible knowledge that you can create something from nothing. You start at zero and you end up at 100 per cent. And you own it. Because you did it that way."
In the 13 years he's been producing operas at public schools around New York, Pearson Thomas has written songs about cockroaches, homeless angels and trash-eating aliens...all, of course, ideas that come from the minds of the kids.