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Ms. Fries’ Opera


Prep English Teacher’s Original Opera Inspired By SHP
By Alondra Flores ‘27 and Charlotte Church ‘27, Staff Writers
Ms. Cristina Fries, who teaches 10th grade U.S. Literature as well as 12th grade English 4 Creative Writing at the Prep, is currently in the process of writing a libretto for her second opera, “The School for Girls that Lost Everything in the Fire.” She is taking on more of a contemporary style in her opera, shifting away from traditional themes that are commonly seen throughout conventional pieces of work.
Her new opera centers around a group of girls who survived a fire that destroyed their town, living in fear of spirits that will soon come to haunt them. Having been inspired by Sacred Heart’s Main building and the school’s history, Fries incorporates some of these concepts into her opera, such as nuns teaching an all-girls boarding school.
Fries has actually worked on a one-act opera in the past with composer Ryan Suleiman, a professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Their partnership proved to be successful as they captivated audiences with their one-act opera, and they were inspired to continue collaborating together to take on another project. During the pandemic, they joined a workshop with West Edge Opera who helped them develop the idea. West Edge Opera is an opera company in the Bay that produces contemporary operas with a special emphasis on California artists. Each year, West Edge Opera picks an opera and develops it into a full length show, and Fries and Suleiman’s project was chosen. In the workshop, they were able to create the first scene, which was performed on April 22 and received praise in the San Francisco Chronicle.
As a kid, Fries had no interest in operas. From preschool until senior year, she thought that she would go to college to study visual arts. But she decided to keep an open mind in college at UC Davis, and tried out a variety of classes. She ended up taking a creative writing class and discovered that she was meant to write fiction. She ultimately dropped the visual arts and dedicated herself to writing fiction. After graduating, she wrote more and went abroad. She came back to UC Davis for graduate school where she met Ryan, her collaborator. In grad school, she had the opportunity to collaborate with Ryan on any project they wanted, which led to the creation of their first opera. Now, Fries finds operas more entertaining and wants “The School for Girls that Lost Everything in the Fire” to be something that she’d be interested in watching.
In grad school, Fries started a compilation of short stories which she is working on turning into a book. The opera adapts a novella from her book, with its setting inspired by Sacred Heart’s Main Building. During the pandemic, Fries decided to reimagine the novella and rewrite it as an opera piece. The characters have little to do with the SHP community, but the story is more about the physical building, the school having nuns as teachers, and the setting being an all girls boarding school. It also has elements of the persistent smoke that was experienced in 2020. More history of the campus inspired her in the writing. “It’s kind of like a gothic, campfire-y kind of ghost story mixed with a weird teen love story,” Fries explains.
The opera will be 90 minutes, have a cast of 10 singers, and 15 instrumentalists.
If funding is secured, Fries’s “The School for Girls that Lost Everything in the Fire” will be performed at the Scottish Rite Center in Oakland in the summer of 2026. Fries doesn’t want this to be a one-time performance, but hopes it will live on through other opera companies.

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