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Enjoy Yourself! A student's impression of Operalia

Guest blogger Ellie Johnson, a 10th grader and Amabassor in LA Opera’s 90012 program, shares her impression of this year's Operalia finale.


Opera Buddies 

L-R: Ellie Johnson, Muse Lee, Spencer Hart, Sarah Toutounchian

 

Like many 15 year olds, I love spending time with my friends gossiping and gushing about the latest episode of “Sherlock.”  However, I also love opera and watching opera competitions.  When I heard LA Opera was making tickets available for Opera Camp members to attend Operalia at a discounted price,  I literally died on the inside from happiness.  Immediately, I texted my two opera buddies.

When August 30th arrived, I kept looking at the clock to see if it was too early to start getting ready.  The car ride felt too long as I daydreamed about the greatest singers in the world.  Waiting outside of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, I spotted one of my music teachers, Mrs. Manfredi.  As we exchanged simple chit chat and excited comments about the competition,  I learned this competition might never be in Los Angeles again.  It dawned on me this might be the only time I could see Operalia. LIVE. After finding Opera Camp buddies and reminiscing about the summer show, the bell rang for Operalia to start. I hurried over to my seat, through door 31.  

I wish I could write about my experience watching the competition, but it would take up at least 20 pages.  So, I will write about the singers I voted for:  Joshua Guerrero singing "Torna ai felici di" from Le Villi, and Amanda Woodbury singing "A vos jeux, mes amis"from Hamlet.

I’m sure Joshua does not remember me, but I performed with him in LA Opera’s community opera, Jonah and the Whale.  It was exciting to see a familiar face on stage. Once he took that first breath and started singing, I could hardly contain my excitement, because he was singing the exact song he performed in a Master Class I attended a year a half ago!  I was practically shoving the binoculars into my eye sockets so I could see his face.  

Sorry Joshua, but I have to say, I liked Amanda’s performance the most. Watching the emotion she brought onto stage is what I hope to bring every time I sing a role. Her quality and power are definitely one of a kind.  

Before the final winners were announced, we watched a video about Operalia that included interviews from past winners.  I will never forget what Placido Domingo told Joyce DiDonato before going on stage when she won in 1998… “Enjoy yourself!”  I did enjoy myself at my first Operalia, and I hope this isn’t my last.

From a Penguin to an Octopus!

Our newest guest blogger, 12 year old Claire Johnson, joins us to blog about her experience with our Cathedral Project. This year we presented the world premiere production of Jonah and the Whale by Jack Perla and Velina Hasu Houston.

 Velvety brown on the outside, sequined on the inside...my costume!  During practice this week, Paloma and I were called behind the curtain to the fitting area.  Finally, we saw our outfits. The octopus hat was cozy and soft, I didn’t want to take it off.  There were no mirrors, so we had to use each other as a mirror. We both looked like real octopi!

Octopus in Costume

 

Saturday’s practice was different from all other practices.  When we arrived, we saw the orchestra unpacking instruments, the shiny handbells all laid out on a table, and the principal singers talking to each other.  I really wanted to stay and watch the excitement, but the sealife had to go upstairs.  Distracted, we reviewed our movements.  We could hear the instruments and singers rehearsing the first part of the show.  It sounded amazing!.  It wasn’t til after break that we got to go downstairs and do the sealife scene, whale included.  It looked like a real whale and I got to do my favorite thing, scaring the fish!

Near the end of our five hour practice we were relaxing, watching the end of the show, when Nathan, one of our animal directors, gave us new words to learn!  We sat on the ground in a group while Nathan read the words to us and we repeated them.  Singing these words on Monday will feel different because we will be in a new space…. the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.  And, this time I wont be a penguin like in Noah’s Flood, I will be an octopus!

 Jonah Sealife

Jonah and the Whale (photo by Robert Millard)

Becoming an Octopus!

Our newest guest blogger, 12 year old Claire Johnson, joins us to blog about her experience with our Cathedral Project. This year we are presenting the world premiere production of Jonah and the Whale by Jack Perla and Velina Hasu Houston.

For me, this week’s rehearsals started before Sunday because our homework was to draw a picture of Jonah and Whale.  I arrived with picture in hand, waiting excitedly to start warm ups.  

Claire Johnson

Instead, we started by going outside.  It was cloudy since it’s been raining all week.  Heather and Nathan, our directors, said we needed to get the feeling of the aisle length at the Cathedral of our Lady of the Angels.  Since I hadn’t been there for a year, I forgot how long it was.  

Jonah Kids

 

While we were being sea-life outside, it started to drizzle on us.  We all ran inside just before it started to pour. Until break, we worked on our movements in the hallway.  The sky cleared up just in time for snacks!


Octopus Sketch After snack, I was called to costuming. Finally! My octopus  friend, Paloma, and I haven’t seen our costumes yet. I  bounced up and down all the way to the costume area.  They asked me if I was the octopus. I said, “YES!” Then,  they told me they were sorry but they forgot to bring  my  costume. I felt deflated. They said I would get to try it  on  next week.  I can’t wait!

 I walked back to the rehearsal area and found my sea-life  group. Next step, practicing with the whale bones!  As we  ran through our movements, we finally got the feeling of  what it will be like on the big stage.  

 

I must have Jonah and the Whale on the brain. Right before rehearsals I noticed a poster at church I never noticed before. In the poster, Jonah is looking out of the whale’s mouth and reaching out, trying to get to land. It sort of felt like I was Jonah, reaching out, looking forward to the next rehearsal.

Coming Home to the Opera

Our favorite high school blogger, Muse Lee, returns to LA Opera's blog to talk about her experience with our Community Opera Program. This year we are presenting the world premiere production of Jonah and the Whale by Jack Perla and Velina Hasu Houston.

When you mention opera to your friends, chances are that they’ll picture gold-rimmed theater binoculars, fancy dresses, and singers trilling in foreign languages. Well, that is, unless they’ve participated in LA Opera’s Community Opera program.

3 Muskateers

Our First Rehearsal
This season's Community Opera kicked off on Sunday, January 26. People of all ages and ethnicities poured through the doors of East Los Angeles Performing Arts Academy (ELAPAA): amateurs and professionals, children and adults, opera veterans and curious newcomers, all coming together to put on the world premiere of Jonah and the Whale by Jack Perla and Velina Hasu Houston, to be performed in late March at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

Stacy Brightman, LA Opera's Director of Education and Community Engagement, stepped up to deliver a welcome speech and to introduce the program to us. As she talked about how we’d be performing in the grand Cathedral, how we’d be joined by more than 400 chorus and orchestra members, and how we’d be led by Maestro James Conlon, I just sat there smiling uncontrollably. We’d be singing alongside our friends and alongside world-class musicians, and better yet, working with them to achieve the same goal: a spectacular work of art. Though it’s my second year participating, I still don’t think I’ve quite wrapped my head around it. I sure was glad to be back.

Laughing

We began the day with movement warm-up led by assistant directors Leslie Stevens and Heather Lipson-Bell. They led us through stretches and strengthening exercises to prepare us for the strenuous movement required for Jonah and the Whale. Even as my muscles were screaming, I couldn’t help but think about how much I had missed Heather’s enthusiasm and Leslie’s occasional slip into a Dracula voice.

Rehearsing Jonah

After the mini-workout, assistant conductor Paul Floyd and assistant director Nathan Rifenburg led us through some of our music. We sang through the hymn Faith Be Preserved. As I lifted my voice with everyone else’s and listened to the searching, resolute melody unfold, I made a note to myself to remember exactly how I was feeling: curious, stirred, moved. Since we’re performing the world premiere of this opera, when the audience hears this melody, this would be how they will feel, too. Everyone in the Cathedral will be hearing this music for the very first time, just as we are now.

The kids went with Nathan, and director Eli Villanueva ran a staging rehearsal with the rest of us. He emphasized the importance of moving as an ensemble, led not so much by the music but by the collective breath of the group. He guided us through several patterns of movement, or katas, which we would need to learn for Jonah and the Whale. Leslie joined him, and together, they led us through the katas with the corresponding music playing.

The Jonah Company

Our first Jonah and the Whale rehearsal ended with that. After a few closing announcements, we all headed home. Though we were a little exhausted, we all felt renewed and rejuvenated, and already in love with the opera.

A Visit from the Composer
Our next rehearsal took place on Super Bowl weekend, Saturday, February 1. Because of the big event, we had some traffic problems, but eventually, we were all gathered at ELAPAA. The day began with a big surprise. Dr. Brightman stepped up to give her opening announcements, and after she had welcomed us, she told us that we had an amazing opportunity that day. She explained, “When we’re doing La Bohème, we can’t say that Mr. Puccini is in the room.” However, we now got to say the equivalent, because Jonah and the Whale composer Jack Perla had come to visit.

Mr. Perla sat down to watch our rehearsal. Like last time, we began with movement warm-up, then transitioned into working on the hymn. We’re already making significant progress with the diction, the dynamics, and the intention behind the words. I hope Mr. Perla liked what he heard.

Jack Perla and Cast

Next, the kids went with Nathan for their rehearsal, and we went with Eli for ours. We reviewed our movements from last time, fine-tuned them, and practiced several times with the music. Then, Eli divided us into smaller groups: sailors, clouds, waves and parts of the whale. He worked with the whales and the waves to start choreographing the storm. With the whale and wave props there, I could already start to envision the whole show coming together.

At the end of the day, we received our Jonah and the Whale posters. I admit that I may have screamed a little when I spotted my Operalia favorites in the list of singers. Looking at the glossy poster and reading over the names of all the groups involved, it struck me again what a big deal this production will be. I felt more honored than ever to be a part of it.

Jonah Poster

With that, we broke for the day. After final announcements, they sent us on our way. As I lined up for sign-out and observed the diverse crowd around me, I tried to put a finger on it all. Indeed, opera really isn’t just about daggers and ball gowns and wine glasses. The Cathedral experience is impossible to describe, but this is how I’m feeling right now: more than anything, Community Opera is a lot like going home. 

Tickets are available beginning February 5 at 10am at www.laopera.org

Welcome to Jonah and the Whale

Our favorite high school blogger, Muse Lee, returns to LA Opera's blog to talk about her experience with our Community Opera Program.  This year we are presenting the world premiere production of Jonah and the Whale by Jack Perla and Velina Hasu Houston.

To me, LA Opera’s Community Opera program means many things. However, now that I’m returning to participate a second time, one memory stands out: the moment that we finally rehearsed in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Just standing in the Cathedral filled us with a sense of mystery, urgency, and wonder. The singing transformed from practiced mantras to spontaneous outbursts, and the movements sprang not from conscious decision, but from an inner compulsion.

Cathedral Opera

At the time, I didn’t quite realize the beauty of creating art in a holy place. However, entering my second year in the program, I’m starting to realize the true significance of the Community Opera program.

Community Opera is LA Opera’s annual project open to the entire community: children and adults, amateurs and professionals. After two months of rehearsal, participants join more than four hundred chorus and orchestra members at the Cathedral to perform an opera.

Orientation for Community Opera 2014 took place last Sunday. As I arrived in the room, I saw familiar faces everywhere. All my friends from last year’s program and Opera Camp were there, and they were just as excited as I was. We instantly began rehashing memories and belting out tunes from the operas we had done together. The moment our antics earned a fondly exasperated look from our director, Eli Villanueva, it was as if no time had passed at all.

Cathedral Opera

The Senior Director of Education and Community Engagement, Stacy Brightman, and our directors, Eli Villanueva and Leslie Stevens, gave us overviews of the program and led us through some of the choreography. We also learned about what we’d be performing: the world premiere of Jonah and the Whale. Jonah and the Whale is the story of a prophet fleeing from the Lord. As he escapes by sea, God sends a giant fish to swallow him. Inside the belly of the whale, Jonah learns the error of his ways and repents, placing all of his faith in God’s will. As the ensemble, we will play waves, sea creatures, sailors, and Ninevites in the story.

To sum up the program, Dr. Brightman stated, “Art belongs to everybody. Opera certainly belongs to everybody. And this opera house belongs to everybody.”

As we laughed, leapt, and danced for the next hour of orientation, I reflected back on my Cathedral experience and thought about Dr. Brightman’s words. I’m beginning to understand what she meant. Only now do I realize why in the Cathedral, everything fell so naturally into place. It’s because art itself is an act of faith. Art fills us and lifts us up. Art brings the community together, because though it may not have all the answers, it shows us that others have the same questions. And making artistic choices, devoting ourselves to art, and sharing it with the community are in themselves a leap of faith.