Memories can be the most treasured gift given or received. For Highland Park resident Maile Shea, her remembrance of her daughter is so valuable she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to honor her daughter with the idea to commission an opera.
Chloe Shea was born a miracle baby. After being resuscitated at birth, Chloe lived her life a naturally curious, girly girl, her mother said.
“She loved to do ballet, loved to do sports, and loved to take care of her brother, who was born when she was two,” Chloe’s mother said.
At age three, Shea’s daughter was diagnosed with brain cancer. After a year of chemotherapy, and a brief period in remission, the cancer returned. In December 2011, Chloe died.
“She had such a great spirit, and everybody loved to be with her. She brought so many people together,” Maile Shea said. “We just have so many wonderful memories at the end of her life.”
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WHAT: Becoming Santa Claus
WHO: The Dallas Opera
WHEN: Dec. 4, 6, 9, and 12
WHERE: Winspear Opera House
The chance to commemorate her daughter through the opera was rather serendipitous. To Shea, it seemed like a perfect fit with her family, and allowed her the opportunity to give back to the community through the 12 Months of Kindness program.
Even for composer Mark Adamo, Becoming Santa Claus turned into more than his fourth operatic endeavor. The story of Chloe served as a haunting reminder throughout the creative process.
“It was a lovely thought to keep with me as I was working through the score,” Adamo said. “It’s, in a way, a gift for a girl I won’t be able to meet.”
The opera follows a young prince who learns the meaning of giving, rather than the selfish joy of receiving. Combining a new origin story of Santa Claus with the story of the Three Wise Men, Adamo created a family-friendly opus that addresses the social problem of gift giving — whether it’s an extension of being generous or merely a substitute.
“It developed into a story about this kid who has been disappointed by his own father and has become a rather brittle, materialistic child as a result,” Adamo said. “It has a rather light tone, but addresses the reason people give gifts for good reasons and bad reasons.”
To raise awareness of the holiday opera, Shea was a founder of the 12 Months of Kindness project, and acts as the committee chair for the yearlong endeavor. The effort kicked off last December with families gathering for pictures with Santa. Every month following, the committee hosted a different event, each an opportunity to give back to the community.
The project will conclude with 12 Days of Kindess, including a celebrity reading of the upcoming Becoming Santa Claus coloring book, which will be shared with children at Children’s Medical Center following its premiere.
“There’s such bonding honoring the memory of someone, but also remembering everyone in need, which is the whole mission of the 12 Months of Kindness,” Shea said.
The opera will premiere at the Winspear Opera House on Dec. 4, with additional performances on Dec. 6, 9, and 12. Tickets can be purchased on the Dallas Opera website.