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Blog entries posted during 2013

Noah's Flood: Our Opera Expedition Has Begun!

Muse Lee, our favorite high school blogger, has returned for a series on her participation in the Community Opera production of Benjamin Britten's Noah's Flood.  Performances are April 19 and 20 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

First days of anything always get me a little paranoid. Did I pack an extra pencil? Is my score with me? And for that matter, where on earth did my singing voice go?  This was me right before the first ensemble rehearsal of Benjamin Britten's Noah's Fludde (Noye's Fludde), this year's Community Opera. Heightening my nervousness, this was also the first time I had ever done this program. I knew a bit about it, though: it is a huge annual opera performed by adults, kids, teens and non-singers like me, as well as music professionals from the community.

Hopping from the car, I walked into our rehearsal venue, the spacious auditorium of East LA Performing Arts Academy. Immediately, all my apprehension went away. I started seeing people I knew from last summer’s Opera Camp, both staff and campers. How I have missed hearing director Eli Villanueva’s continued attempt to make the word “groovy” cool again!

Muse Lee in Opera Camp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Muse Lee in LA Opera's 2012 Opera Camp. Photo by Taso Papadakis.


At the beginning, we were given an overview of the program. On April 19 and 20, we will be performing at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels with choruses from all over LA, numbering around 200 people altogether. A community orchestra of 100 members, along with LA Opera Orchestra members, will accompany us, all under the baton of a certain Maestro named James Conlon.  If that's not the pinnacle of epic, I don't know what it is — especially since 2013 marks Britten's hundredth birthday!

flood animals


We plunged right into rehearsal. The younger kids, the animals in the ark, went to a separate room to rehearse. As for the teens and adults, we stayed with assistant director Heather Lipson Bell. Bit by bit, we learned our motions in the opening scene; we pieced together our entrance, exit and the choreography in between. In this scene, we are congregation members searching for the Lord’s guidance. Eli encouraged us to go beyond this simplified sketch and develop individual identities. He asked us to think about who we are, why we're having this crisis of faith, and how this dictates even our subtlest movement choices. Each action we perform can be interpreted in many different ways, and the actions we settle on depend on our own character. I can't wait to get to know mine better!

flood adults

After a short break, we began singing the lonely, searching melody of “Lord Jesus, think on me,” our voices floating through the space, the amateur voices supported and buoyed up by the resonant, trained voices. Noye's Fludde is based on the medieval Chester Miracle Plays, meant to be performed by townspeople and local choristers. Britten intended his opera version to be the same way: a community production with singers and non-singers, adults, children and everyone in between. The resulting sound is something so exquisitely pure and organic that I almost forgot I was actually singing. It just felt completely natural. I can only imagine how gorgeous it will be with 200 other singers and orchestra.

Our next task was to put the action together with the singing. This was easier said than done. Whenever I focused on the singing, I forgot my blocking, and whenever I switched my attention to the action, the words and music escaped me. I never realized how difficult onstage coordination can be—it really makes me appreciate performances more! Though it's challenging for some of us, the opening scene is already starting to solidify.

I left rehearsal brimming with happiness and anticipation. Everything around me looked infinitely more awesome. Now, the flood waters have come in and our ship is off and away. Our Community Opera expedition has begun!


Noah’s Flood Rehearsal = the pain, the agony, the achievement

Muse Lee, our favorite high school blogger, has returned for a series on her participation in the Community Opera production of Benjamin Britten's Noah's Flood.  Performances are April 19 and 20 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.


Recently, I heard a comic comparing a music rehearsal to the ER. Both are supposed to help you get better, both make you cry, and both are filled with excruciating pain. During Noah’s Flood rehearsal on Sunday, we experienced all three of these things.

For this rehearsal, only the animals, raindrops, waves, rainbows, and the raven and dove were called. I’m one of the fourteen waves. Basically, what we do is maneuver long strips of blue fabric, with two people per strip. I had a similar job during Opera Camp, so I thought I was prepared for this. However, I soon realized that there are two crucial differences between The White Bird of Poston and Noah’s Flood waves. Firstly, this wave scene goes on for 7 minutes, and secondly, while the Poston waves represented the Colorado River, these waves are supposed to make up a worldwide flood.

Flood #1

To help us achieve the desired effect, assistant director, Heather Lipson-Bell patiently and energetically taught us a bunch of different wave movements. I don’t want to give it all away before the performance, but I’ll just say that it involved incessant arm-pumping, duck-walking, and squats. Twenty minutes in, my wavemate and I were already hot and red-faced. By the end, we were ready to drown along with God’s condemned. I think my muscles hate me right now. 

After our exhausting wave movement session, we listened to the music for the storm and flood scene. When I heard the glorious, crashing music, it suddenly hit me: I’m actually in a Benjamin Britten opera. I’ll be singing something written by Benjamin Britten. Both that thought and the beauty of the music gave me chills. My eyes watered. There’s nothing like opera to bring on the tears.

Following this, we were released, but I didn’t want to leave yet. I’d been hearing the kids singing their animal parts upstairs, and I really wanted to get a glimpse of their rehearsal. Halfway there, I heard a huge, enthusiastic voice that almost sounded amplified. Turns out it was assistant director, Nathan Rifenburg – who happens to have twice the energy of an average human being.

When I walked into the classroom, he was animatedly demonstrating monkey movements, bouncing around and bending down to pick imaginary bugs out of a kid’s hair. I was trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, but it was just too awesome not to giggle. The best part was that the kids weren’t laughing at all. They took it all so seriously. Whenever Nathan told them to stand up, they immediately sprang up like jack-in-the-boxes. And their ark entrance scene—wow. They were so focused, and even if I couldn’t immediately tell what animal they were, I saw that they believed in it, and so I did too. The rest of rehearsal was delightful: the best parts included an impromptu “Doe-A-Deer” and Nathan’s colorful description of well-supported singing as “throwing your guts on the table.”

Flood #3

The day ended on an exciting note: as we were leaving, we received Noah’s Flood posters. It includes the names of all participating choruses and orchestras. The fact that we’re on the same poster as James Conlon is way too awesome to handle. And I had no idea that Ronnita Nicole Miller will be Mrs. Noye. I started spazzing out. (download the poster here)

As for us ensemble members, though?  Improvement: check. Tears: check. Pain: double check. We know what that means: this production is on its way to becoming something incredible.


Noah's Flood Rehearsal: When the Opera Pixies Take Over

Muse Lee, our favorite high school blogger, has returned for a series on her participation in the Community Opera production of Benjamin Britten's Noah's Flood.  Performances are April 19 and 20 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Tickets become available tomorrow, March 14 at 10am.
 

With five upcoming tests, an essay to write, and a lost hour of sleep, I really didn't want to go to Noah’s Flood rehearsal on Sunday. I’d spent the weekend studying, sneezing, and wallowing in self-pity. When I finally dragged myself out of the house, though, everything changed. The opera pixies took over: the moment I signed myself in, all the stress disappeared, and I was ready to sing.

NF - Floyd coaching

Assistant Conductor Paul Floyd leads the adults in a music rehearsal.

The day started with a change of scenery. Instead of practicing in the auditorium as usual, we switched places with the children and went into the upstairs classroom. There, we reviewed the opening scene with assistant director Heather. Before I could get totally wrapped up in it, though, a few of us were pulled out for costume fitting. The group of us went into a small room, and we were greeted by costume designer Paula Higgins. After taking our measurements, she gave us costumes to try on. I loved mine immediately—it really looked and felt like water. I was reluctant to take it off, but I knew I’d see it a lot in the coming weeks, so I put it back on the hanger and returned to rehearsal.

Heather Lipson Bell

Assistant Director Heather Lipson-Bell

When we got back, we practiced the choreography with the singing and moved onto the storm scene. We waves didn’t have to learn the movements, so we stood off to the side and observed. It was so cool to just watch the scene develop—it gave us an idea of how it'll look to the audience.

After trooping downstairs and refining the opening a little more, most of the ensemble took a break. Those of us working with props, though, stepped up to rehearse with Heather and director Eli. Eli distributed wave fabric to each pair and determined our positions and cues. Then, we went over our movements and practiced engulfing the doomed. My and my wave-mate’s “victim” is absolutely terrifying when she begins drowning. To me, it looked like something out of a horror movie. Eli’s take on it was much different: he told our drownee that she’s supposed to look like Han Solo frozen in carbonite. Whoever talks about opera and Star Wars in the same sentence is automatically my hero.

NF Adults Rehearsing 

Director Eli Villanueva leads the adults in a staging rehearsal.

With Eli’s instructions in mind, we put it all together, running through the whole storm scene with music. Since my wave-mate and I are standing at the front, we could watch the entire scene unfolding behind us. The effect is just astonishing. Enraptured as I was, I wouldn’t have minded staying longer, but time was up. Rehearsal ended with a few final announcements.

I signed myself out and walked through the door. As I left, I started remembering all that homework that lay in wait, and all that studying that had to be done. Somehow, though, it no longer looked so bad. I guess the opera pixies hadn’t abandoned me.


Noah's Flood Rehearsal: "I Need a Stunt Double"

Muse Lee, our favorite high school blogger, has returned for a series on her participation in the Community Opera production of Benjamin Britten's Noah's Flood.  Performances are April 19 and 20 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

Last week Friday, a miracle of biblical proportions took place: school finally ended. A long, glorious spring break stretched before me like the rainbow after the flood. The perfect way to celebrate its arrival was going to Noah’s Flood rehearsal stress-free.

And what a celebration it was. This was the most rewarding rehearsal yet: on Sunday, everything began to come together. For the first time, the ark was brought in. With it there, we went over our wave movements, and we confirmed our various cues. As we did, the “doomed” practiced getting engulfed. I said before that their drowning looked like a horror film scene, but during this rehearsal, director Eli changed it a bit. It just got a whole lot scarier. Now, it involves the drowned rolling around on the ground. I think the situation was summed up best by one of the victims: “I need a stunt double.”

Muse

While we worked the waves, the four guardian angels practiced maneuvering the ark for the first time. I almost lost focus on my movements because I couldn’t take my eyes off the ship. With our blue strips billowing around it, it sailed and rocked and veered. Later, I went up close to the ark, and I realized that it was only a frame with fabric. Though one of my fellow waves joked that we needed CGI, I heard one lady marveling at how incredibly well it worked. She was saying that this really shows the beauty of theater: the audience is not only given a story, but is also invited to fill in the gaps and complete it. It’s kind of like how when a tree falls in a forest, it technically only makes a sound if people are there to hear it. Or maybe it’s more like a coloring book. We provide the outline, and each audience member can fill the blank spaces with his or her own colors.

Ark far

After a short break, Eli got us back on our feet. It was now time to start working on the final scene. We figured out our entrances and exits and got a rough idea of the music. As we practiced, the people manipulating the rainbow sent it streaking back and forth over our heads. It was absolutely gorgeous, but as a wave, I could only imagine their pain once we hit the forty-minute mark.

Doomed

As usual, the three hours of rehearsal went by quickly, and before we knew it, it was time to go home. With rehearsal over, spring break officially began. I can’t ask for a more wonderful start!


Noah’s Flood Rehearsal: It’s All Coming Together

During a field trip last week, I mentioned rehearsal to one of my teachers. She asked me what show I’m doing, and I told her that it’s Noah’s Flood. “By Benjamin Britten?” she asked. “I did that show about 20 years ago!” She went on to tell me about her experience. It’s almost scary to think that in 2033, we’ll be talking about our production like that.

However, I decided to slow down and take it one rehearsal at a time — I mean, we haven’t even started rehearsing in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels yet. Rehearsal #5 took place on Saturday, instead of our usual Sunday. Because of the wicked L.A. traffic, it took a while for all of us to get to East Los Angeles Performing Arts Academy. When almost everyone had arrived, though, we began rehearsal.

There was something new in the building that day: tape markings on the floor to delineate the Cathedral’s stage area. We knew what that meant. It was time to really get down to business. Sure enough, director Eli Villanueva announced that today would be our first stumble-through rehearsal, in which we’d put all the scenes we’d learned in sequence.

Muse and Eli

After some warm-up, we dispersed to our opening positions. All of us enter from different locations, and originally, a small group of us had to run halfway around the stage area to get to our initial positions.  A few injuries later, we found our number reduced to only two. Eli greeted us with the additional happy news that he had made an executive decision: by his decree, we now had to run around the entire stage. When we finally made it to our spots a geologic era later, we ended up gasping instead of singing. I didn’t know that I had signed up for operatic boot camp!  

After Eli worked with us on the physical, assistant conductor Paul Floyd gave us tips for the singing. He told us to really think about the verbs and to energize them. Now, it sounds less like a practiced mantra, and more like a sincere prayer. With all those repeating phrases, it’s easy to simply chant the words, but Paul helped us really find the color and intention in each one.

Katie and Eli

We transitioned from the opening scene to the ark entrance. The kids came downstairs to rehearse this, and since the adult ensemble isn’t in the scene, we got to sit down and watch. What a treat! Playing various types of animals, including birds, cats, and deer, the children paraded out, swooping, prowling, or prancing up the ramp and into the ark. My wavemate and I alternated between happily singing along with the animals and going insane because of the cuteness. By the time the mice came out, we were literally dying.

NF Lions

Luckily, break came next, so we had time to recover. We bonded over Shakespeare, dying oranges, and free verse about cement. As cheesy as it sounds, theater really brings people together and makes them bond over the most random things!

After break, we continued from right where we left off. With our animals in the ark, we proceeded to the flood scene. With all of us together for the first time, the power of the music ballooned us up, infusing the scene with an incredible collective energy. Instead of simply being the manipulator of a fabric strip, I keenly felt my own role in the drama. My wave and I had become a living, breathing character.

Birds

It’s really all coming together now. I can’t believe that we’re already halfway through the program, and only about three weeks away from the performance. And I can see it already—with each rehearsal, we’re also a little closer to 2033, when we’ll be talking on and on about Britten’s centennial year and that amazing production we put together.


Noah’s Flood Rehearsal – Going Overboard

Muse Lee, our favorite high school blogger, has returned for a series on her participation in the Community Opera production of Benjamin Britten's Noah's Flood.  Performances are April 19 and 20 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

Early on in Sunday’s Noah’s Flood rehearsal, director Eli pronounced, “We really have to go overboard.”  Whether or not the pun was intended, I’d say that was the theme of the day: testing our limits. The thing is, we had everything in place, and our new job was to turn it up several notches and amplify it—even if that meant completely overdoing it and feeling so embarrassed that we’d never want to face Eli again.

Muse

With this objective in mind, we plunged right into rehearsal, running through the opening scene several times. After carefully observing us, Eli pointed to the open door, through which we could see a distant fence at the edge of the campus. He told us to keep in mind that there would be audience members that far away, and that we had to effectively convey the story to them. Therefore, it had to be bigger, louder, and way past the boundary of ridiculous. We had to shed the “armor of appropriateness” and “really explore what embarrasses you.” We took his words to heart and started translating them into action, elongating our bodies and stretching our arms as much as possible. We had extra motivation since he announced that the first person who touched the ceiling would get a thousand dollars.

Next, as the kids rehearsed their ark entrance, assistant director Heather took the “waves” and “doomed” outside to practice.  Since it was so windy, our fabric strips wouldn’t listen to us, instead flapping every which way and talking back. It was exhausting, but it actually added a splash of realism. Now, during the storm scene, I can truly imagine the wind whipping my wave and my clothes and my hair. And plus, my wavemate and I had fun pretending that our wave was a parachute and that we were going to fly away.

Lions

As we went back inside, my wavemate and I nearly got trampled by the animals, but we narrowly avoided this fate and got to watch the rest of their ark entrance scene. When working with the kids, Eli told them something similar to what he told us: he said that the scene felt a little tentative and that it needed to be bolder. He said to them, “I’m giving you permission to make mistakes.”

Once they had worked on the scene a little more, we waves stepped in and the storm began. With Eli’s words in mind, I threw myself so fully into the motions and the music that I don’t quite remember what happened. All I know is that my limbs are really sore and that, according to my wavemate’s mom, I had quite a lethal facial expression.

Birdy

Together with the animals, we sang our parts, and then slowly exited the stage. However, assistant conductor Paul, who was accompanying us on the piano, didn’t stop playing. For the first time, he kept on going, right to the very last note. There were several moments of silence. Then, we burst into applause.

And that’s how our very last ensemble rehearsal ended. Next week, the principals and the community orchestra will join us, and then we’ll be moving to our actual performance venue, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Each rehearsal is more exciting than the last—who knew that embarrassing yourself can be this fun?


Noah’s Flood Rehearsal: The Party Has Only Just Started

Muse Lee, our favorite high school blogger, has returned for a series on her participation in the Community Opera production of Benjamin Britten's Noah's Flood.  Performances are April 19 and 20 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

It’s really impossible to call Saturday’s Noah’s Flood practice a “rehearsal.” With all the hilarity, wonderful music, excitement, surprises, and star-struck moments, it had all the makings of a smashing party.

I arrived at the rehearsal venue, East LA Performing Arts Academy (ELAPAA), two hours earlier than usual—our rehearsal this time was five hours long. Before I even entered the auditorium, I heard the purr of strings and chatter of woodwinds. I stepped through the door and stared. For the first time, an orchestra was there. Rehearsal hadn’t even started, and I was already insanely happy and excited.

Hami Orch

After several minutes, LA Opera staff member Anthony Jones began the opening announcements. He started by introducing the orchestra: the Hamilton High School orchestra and the Celebration Ringers, a 5th through 8th grade handbell ensemble. I never even knew that such a thing existed.  He introduced the stage managers and the principal kids and teens playing Noah’s sons and their wives, as well as the gossips. Finally, he introduced Noah (bass-baritone Yohan Yi), the Voice of God (actor Jamieson Price), and the pianist. I hope I didn’t scream that loudly when he said the name Nino Sanikidze.

Muse-wave

We kicked off rehearsal by plunging immediately into wave practice, this time with the principals. We went over the drowning of the gossips and reviewed our positions.  After we had gone over the drowning a few times, the rest of the ensemble joined us to rehearse the full storm scene with the orchestra. I got my first glimpse of Mr. Yi, standing in the ark. When he started singing, I was completely star-struck—I couldn’t believe I was onstage with an artist like him. I just kept staring at him while I waited for the fact to register. It never really did.

Yohan-Noah

At last, we got to see all the scenes between the opening and the ark entrance. The first in this sequence is the one in which God speaks to Noah for the first time. We were all excited to hear what God sounded like, but finding out was a little terrifying. Standing above all of us on the auditorium stage, Mr. Price spoke his opening lines into a microphone. There’s no one word that can adequately describe his voice except for summoning — put simply, it’s the perfect Voice of God.

Voice of God

The scenes after God’s address were of Noah’s children and their wives building the ark, of Mrs. Noah and the gossips laughing at them, and finally, of their  children dragging Mrs. Noah onboard right before the storm. It was great to finally see how our ensemble scenes fit into the big picture, and also, many of the principals were my Opera Camp friends, so I had a blast chatting with them and watching them rehearse. Plus, seeing Director Eli filling in for Ronnita Nicole Miller as Mrs. Noah was a real moment to remember.

After a break, we continued rehearsal. When my wave-mate and I walked back into the auditorium, Mr. Price was still onstage, towering above everybody. My wave-mate and I were a bit intimidated and avoiding eye contact, but he noticed the two of us and gave us a kind smile. That was one of the highlights of rehearsal. We proceeded to go around telling everyone that God had smiled at us.

Next we moved on from the ark entrance and began the storm. With the orchestra playing full-throttle, the whole auditorium seemed to expand. There was a new sense of hugeness and space to be filled, and this began to translate into our motions and singing.

Flood

When the storm was over, the teen and adult ensemble members got a chance to rest, since our only remaining scene to perform was the finale. It wasn’t a very relaxing break, though—every time Mr. Price uttered “Noah…” into the microphone, we all jumped. We eventually came to anticipate it, but the first time, everyone had a mini-heart attack and the guy next to me even screamed. We could only imagine how poor Noah must have felt hearing that voice from the sky.  With almost all the elements present, the performance became grander, bigger, fuller. I can hardly imagine where it’ll be by showtime.

It won’t be long before we find out. On Monday, April 15, tech week begins, and we’ll be in our performance venue, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. This was our final rehearsal in ELAPAA, and as we left the building, we bid the wonderful space goodbye.

Ellie and Muse

Saturday’s rehearsal was quite a party: we’ve reunited with friends, sung glorious music, and received a smile from God. Something tells me, though, that the best is still ahead: the party has only just started.


Noah’s Flood Has Taken Over My Life

Muse Lee, our favorite high school blogger, has returned for a series on her participation in the Community Opera production of Benjamin Britten's Noah's Flood.  Performances are April 19 and 20 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

It’s official: Noah’s Flood has taken over my life.

Just look at my Monday, for example. For starters, on Sunday night, my dreams were all about the opera. Then, in school, I wasted my free time watching Noah’s Ark cartoons on YouTube. A little later, I headed to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels for a three-hour rehearsal. Finally, when I got home at 10pm, the first thing I did was rush to the computer and start this blog post. So many exciting things happened that simply going to bed wasn’t even an option: Monday was equal parts rehearsal and adventure.

Cathedral spaceAs Day 1 of tech week, Monday was a bit hectic. I had to squeeze all my homework into the two hours between school and rehearsal. However, it was “happy trouble.” I just couldn’t wait to be in the Cathedral, and the time finally came. As I walked to the entrance, I took it all in. The building jutted sharply up to the sky, cut out in slanting planes and stark angles. I was filled with awe and reverence. I signed in and entered the vaulted, mystical chapel at last.  

I soon found my wave-mate sitting in the choir pews, and I joined her. We spotted Noah (Yohan Yi) and for the first time, Mrs. Noah (Ronnita Nicole Miller) sitting in the pews. I found out that my wave-mate also loves her, and of course, we started “fan-girling” together. I’m Facebook friends with Ms. Miller, and I met her once backstage. However, I wasn’t sure whether she remembered me or not. My wave-mate and I decided that no matter what, we’d approach her and see what would happen.

We didn’t have time for that yet, though—Director Eli promptly got us on our feet to walk around the Cathedral and get a feel for the space. Then, after that, he had us go to our opening positions. There was some confusion about our places, since this was our first time in the Cathedral. Soon, though, we sorted it out. As I walked down the aisle to get to my position, I nervously passed by Ms. Miller and Mr. Yi.  Ms. Miller noticed me and broke into a huge smile, waving. She actually remembered me! Ecstatic, I waved back, and Mr. Yi also smiled and said hello. They began to feel less like celebrities and more like real people.

Noye and Mrs.

We proceeded to rehearse the opening scene. In the huge Cathedral, it was almost eerie to hear our own voices. However, singing the phrase “Lord Jesus, think on me” in a holy building added an element of raw sincerity and even fear to our words. Eli encouraged us to key into these emotions and to make our singing and our actions bigger and fuller. After we went over the opening scene several times, we ensemble members sat back down in the choir pews. Then, Jamieson Price, playing The Voice of God, spoke his first lines. I thought the huge Cathedral would make his voice sound scarier, but instead, it served as a natural vessel for the sheer gravity of his voice. Everything was really starting to fit into place.

Waves

From this time, we occupied ourselves with watching the principals. Seeing and hearing Ms. Miller so close up sent me back into fan-girl mode. I’d always seen her in LA Opera productions, and now, here she was, singing right in front of me. Better yet, we’d be singing with her. It was unbelievable.

Break time came. During the first half, my wave-mate, her sister, and I explored the vast outside area. Then, my wave-mate and I resolved to approach Ms. Miller as we had planned. We found her sitting in the pews with Mr. Yi, and I introduced my wave-mate to her. We had expected it to be a quick introduction, but to our surprise, Ms. Miller kept on talking with us, and Mr. Yi joined in. By the time rehearsal resumed, we had talked about chicken, brownies, and Björk. Since Ms. Miller will be covering Erda and singing the First Norn at the Met, she also treated us to her spin on Rheingold. I vote Ronnita Nicole Miller as the next Anna Russell.

We had to end the conversation when rehearsal started up again. In the final half of Noah’s Flood rehearsal, we went from the storm to the finale. We had trouble translating some of our movements to the Cathedral, since we’d been rehearsing in the East LA Performing Arts Academy auditorium all this time. However, when it finally began coming together, it really started looking and sounding spectacular. In a way that’s difficult to describe, the Cathedral setting has brought out shades and colors in the opera that would have been lost in a theater. Benjamin Britten intended Noah’s Flood to be performed in a church, and I think all of us are beginning to realize why.

rainbow

The first day of tech week is down, and there are five more days to go. It won’t be easy, though—I have a feeling that if this adventure continues as it did on Monday, I won’t be getting to bed anytime soon. 


Noah's Flood: Taking The Leap

Muse Lee, our favorite high school blogger, has returned for a series on her participation in the Community Opera production of Benjamin Britten's Noah's Flood. Performances were this past weekend, April 19 and 20 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.  This is her final post in the series.


Tuesday and Wednesday

I’ve been saying the word “almost” a lot: we’re “almost” there, it’s “almost” coming together, etc. During Noah’s Flood rehearsal on Tuesday and Wednesday last week, we finally abandoned “almost” and took that leap.

On Tuesday, we rehearsed the performance with the community choirs and orchestras for the first time at the Cathedral. Both elements added incredible majesty, grandeur, and energy. Still, the performance remained at the “almost” stage.

However, on Wednesday we added four main things: costumes, lights, the LA Opera Orchestra members, and most exciting of all, Maestro James Conlon.  And one that day, two things happened that completely changed the game.

Noah's Flood

The first of these things came in the form of a surprise visitor: a bespectacled man with a close-trimmed beard. Blinking, I whispered to Noah (Yohan Yi), “Is that Christopher Koelsch?!” It really was.  That’s when I really sank in that we were part of something so significant that it called for a visit by LA Opera’s President and CEO. My determination hardened. I would do all I could to help make it a great performance.

For me, that set the tone for the whole day. When the time came for rehearsal to start, we went to the halls flanking the sanctuary to review notes and warm up. As we did, we heard a murmur and applause from inside. Maestro Conlon had arrived.

Noah's Flood

I knew that the second I ran out into the sanctuary for my opening position, I would see him up there on the podium. My nervousness escalated, and the beatings of my heart hurtled to a peak. The thundering opening chords sounded. My running partner and I exchanged a glance; it was our cue.

At that moment, the second amazing thing happened. The moment I took off sprinting, my nervousness immediately converted itself to fear and anger. I ran down the aisle, bursting with desperation, searching everywhere for answers. When I skidded to a halt, it wasn’t me anymore, but at last, my character. For the first time, I carried my voice to the breaking point, singing on the edge of danger.

Noah's Flood

Throughout the program, director Eli Villanueva, assistant conductor Paul Floyd, and assistant director Heather Lipson-Bell have been urging us to realize our intention. Up until that point, it had been make believe. Now, one by one, we were all finding our own meaning in the words and actions.

We bumped through the rest of the opera, costume changes and Maestro Conlon and all. By the end of rehearsal, the only element left to add was an audience, which would come in during Thursday’s final dress rehearsal.

On the first day of tech week, Monday, I don’t think any of us could honestly say we were prepared to perform. By the time we hit Wednesday, we crossed the boundary between “almost” and “finally.” Thursday, Friday, Saturday, here we come. We couldn’t feel any more ready.


Thursday, Friday, and Saturday

At this point, I began reflecting on all parts of my Noah’s Flood experience—the beautiful music, the friendships made with the ensemble members and principals, the number of times we imitated Jamieson Price (Voice of God)—and I keenly felt the fact that it would all be over soon. I knew that it wouldn’t end without a bang: the last three days would be a stunning finale. 

Noah's Flood

The first of these three days, Thursday, was our final dress rehearsal. For the first time, we had a handful of people in the audience. It went smoothly, and the audience loved the performance.

We still hadn’t endured the greatest test, though. On Friday, all of our emotions were at a peak. The stress from tech week had now accumulated, and it now aggravated by opening night nerves. It didn’t help that we were told that two thousand people were coming.

 

Downstairs, assistant director Heather Lipson-Bell led us through our warm-ups and review. Halfway through, Eli came in. He stood up on the platform and began to speak to us. “On Monday,” he admitted, “I was concerned.” He went on to tell us how we had then invested all that we had into the performance, and how it had now evolved into something truly beautiful. He concluded by saying, “Let your bodies and souls reach the heavens, and just do what you know to do.”

Noah's Flood

With his words in mind, we went upstairs to the sanctuary and got into our places. When we saw all the pews swelling with people, our hearts fluttered again. “This is what two thousand people looks like…” someone whispered. Eli’s words, though, repeated in our minds: “Let your bodies and souls reach the heavens. Just do what you know to do.”

And that’s exactly what we did.

Hearing the applause of thousands of people is a frightening, cathartic, overwhelming moment. We glanced around at each other, smiling uncontrollably. We had done it, and we felt fully confident to do it again on Saturday.

Saturday’s routine was the same as Friday’s: we brought our quick-change costumes upstairs, and then went back downstairs to warm up, review, and receive our final pep talk. Eli expressed how proud he was of us, and thanked us for giving our all. For the final time, we went to our opening positions.

LA Opera

Knowing that it would be my last time singing each number, I poured more than I ever had before into the performance. I tapped into my desperation during “Lord Jesus, think on me,” and let loose my fury in the storm scene. At last, we reached the finale. As we sang the soaring, wondrous melody of “What though in solemn silence all,” with the choirs and orchestra triumphantly accompanying us, I gazed out into the audience, and my throat constricted. When I sang the last “Amen” and slowly retreated offstage with the rest of the cast, there was no stopping it anymore. I sank down in the choir pews and wept into my sleeve.

Noah's Flood

The lights went back on, and audience swept us up in warm, rushing applause. We bowed and waved, still in disbelief. Then, when the audience began to disperse, I met up with my wave-mate. We went downstairs to hang up our costumes for the last time.

Muse and Ellie
Muse and her "wave-mate" Ellie after the performance

There were still tears in my eyes as we went down the stairs and said goodbye to all the staff and ensemble members. That night, before and after, there were many incredible moments, but I think it’s best to end by relating a single incident.

Over the course of the program, I had become friends with a young man with an intellectual disability. He was always cheerful and bubbly, and whenever he saw anyone, he would break into a huge smile. That night, as I spoke with my wave-mate through tears, he walked in and noticed me. For a moment, he watched uncertainly. Then, he stepped forward and tightly wrapped his arms around me for a long embrace. When he finally pulled away, I looked up. To my surprise, there were now tears gathered in his eyes as well. Struggling not to cry, he hugged me and my wave-mate one more time, and shakily said goodbye. “Next year,” I managed to reply. He nodded, bravely smiled, and then slowly walked away.

I’ve covered this Community Opera program over nine blog posts. However, I think describing this one moment makes all of them unnecessary.

Noah's Flood


Education & Community Programs 13/14 General Department Auditions

LA Opera's Education and Community Programs Department will be holding auditions on:

  • Tuesday, June 25, 2013 from 10am to 4pm.
  • Wednesday, June 26, 2013 from 10am to 4pm.

If you are interested in auditioning, please send a resume and headshot to:

LA Opera
Attn: Education and Community Programs Auditions
135 North Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012

or email us at educom@laopera.org with Department Auditions in the subject line.

For additional information, see below or click here!


MEET LA OPERA'S SUMMER INTERNS

Interns

LA Opera is excited to introduce the wonderful group of college students who will be spending their summer with us as interns!  Their energy and excitement will help propel us into the upcoming 2013/2014 season.  These special students come from schools all over the country studying music, economics, public relations and arts administration.  We asked them each to write a little bio about themselves:


Erin

Erin Alford is an incoming senior at UC Berkeley with a major in music and a specialization in classical vocal performance. Passionate about performing arts education, Erin is thrilled to be one of four Education and Community Engagement Interns for LA Opera! This summer, Erin is most excited for Opera Camp, where she will get to work with youth and help show them how opera is not just a boring and "ancient" art form, but rather that it is beautiful and can also help build their confidence, ability to work harmoniously together with others, diligence in following directions and completing tasks, and personal expression and creativity.

Chase

Chase Hodge-Brokenburr is an economics and French double major at Bowdoin College.  This summer he is working in the Finance department, and he is most excited to be working on enhancing the efficiency of individual departments’ budgets. So far, he has most enjoyed collaborating with different department heads on improving their budget spreadsheets.

Adam

Adam Hollick attends Azusa Pacific University where he is studying vocal performance. He is an intern in the Education and Community Engagement department. Since he loves opera, he is most excited to just be working here and getting connected with this great community!

Nicole

Nicole Lussier attends Luther College in Decorah, Iowa and is an economics major with a music minor. This summer, she is working in the Education and Community Engagement department.  She is most looking forward to preparing for the company’s second season of Community Circle, a seating program piloted in the 2012/13 season, which allows community groups to experience opera at a significantly lowered price.

Amber

Amber Marsh is studying vocal performance at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, with the aspiration of going into opera.  She is interning in the Education and Community Engagement department this summer. She is most excited to be working on the development of the upcoming Opera Camp production of Brundibár along with its prelude Friedl, and the many aspects that come with being responsible for the happiness and productivity of our campers!

Lisa

Lisa Reilly is our Social Media Intern this summer. She recently graduated magna cum laude with a BA in communications from California State University, Los Angeles.  She is thrilled to gain insight into the overall marketing/public relations operations of a major arts organization along with direct experience managing social media for LA Opera and Britten100/LA: A Celebration.

Tess

Tess Weinburg is thrilled to be the Development Intern at the LA Opera this summer. Tess just finished her junior year at Butler University where she is an arts administration major and dance minor. She is excited to have the opportunity to work on and learn about fundraising to support LA Opera’s upcoming season.

College students: think you would like to be an intern at LA Opera?  Click here regularly to see available internships.  (Please note: most internships are unpaid, for credit positions.)


Opera Camp - "Art as Spiritual Resistance"

Opera Camp 2013 opened early on July 29 with an orientation in the rehearsal rooms of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The Senior Director of Education and Community Engagement, Dr. Stacy Brightman, introduced the two operas we would be performing, Brundibár and Friedl. Brundibár, the story of two children’s victory over an evil organ grinder, was written by Czech composer Hans Krása on the eve of World War II. Soon after writing the opera, Krása was transported to the Terezín concentration camp, and there, he reconstructed the score. The children in the camp performed Brundibár fifty-five times. Most of them, along with Krása, were later killed in the camps.

Friedl was composed by our director, Eli Villanueva, with a libretto by movement director Leslie Stevens. It is the story of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, who secretly taught art to the children in Terezín. Before she was killed in Auschwitz-Birkenau, she hid away the children’s drawings in a suitcase, ensuring that at least their art would survive. Dr. Brightman concluded, “Their art was spiritual resistance. It was their way of retaining their humanity when the Nazis tried to strip it away.”  We knew what she meant: our performances weren’t just shows we were putting on. They were fulfillments of our duties as fellow artists.

Music_rehearsal

After the orientation, we kicked off camp with a movement session and music rehearsals. We learned the stirring, haunting Lullaby, sung by all the children of the village to drown out the songs of the titular organ grinder. What’s so unique and poignant about the Lullaby is that it’s a reversal of roles. While parents usually sing lullabies to their children, this Lullaby is sung by children to their mothers.

While the younger campers went for a scavenger hunt at the Music Center, we teens stayed back to begin rehearsing Friedl. Though some parts were tricky, the melodies and harmonies sounded gorgeous. During lunch, we started getting to know each other. It’s just wonderful hanging out and working with fellow music lovers my age—and at my favorite place on Earth, to boot!

Muse in Friedl

Dr. Brightman spoke to us again after lunch, giving us more historical background. We discussed the fact that, in Friedl, we play actual historical people, and therefore we have a responsibility to them and their memory. “If we don’t tell the story, it makes it possible to happen again,” Dr. Brightman reminded us. After more rehearsals, we headed home to rest and review.

On Day 2, we went deeper into the previous day’s scenes and moved further into the music of Brundibár. Then, like the first day, we split up. The younger children went with Senior Director of Production, Rupert Hemmings, for a backstage tour of the Dorothy Chandler, while we teens rehearsed Friedl.

Bkstg_Tour

During that rehearsal, Eli conducted a very memorable exercise. To help Maddie (our Friedl) make her spoken lines more organic and natural, he had her try to sing them, then speak them as recitative. As an example, he treated us to an impromptu performance of Count Almaviva’s recitative from The Marriage of Figaro “Che imbarazzo è mai questo.” That was one of the highlights of camp so far!

As we went further into Friedl, though, the mood got more serious. As I listened to the blithe, cheery singing of the principals, my heart broke to think that so many of the lively, creative children depicted in the opera were silenced in the camps. It strengthened my resolve to do what Dr. Brightman had told us to do: honor their memory by passing on their story.

Staging

Lunch and a Brundibár staging rehearsal ended the second day of camp. In these two days of rehearsal, I’ve realized that it’s not like last year for me: like I said, as a complete singing newbie, it had been all about struggling to read the music or fighting to hit the right note. This year, though, I’m actually listening to the music, stepping back and hearing what it’s trying to say. I understand we have a responsibility as artists to do this, and act as ambassadors for history through art. And now, in Opera Camp 2013, I feel ready to take on this challenge.


Opera Camp – Choosing to Use Art for Good

Muse Lee, our favorite high school blogger, has returned for a series on her participation in the Opera Camp production of Hans Krása's Brundibár. Performances will take place August 10 and 11 at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre.  This is her second post in the series.

Opera Camp continued on Wednesday. As usual, we began with a session with movement director Leslie Stevens. Then, we dove into a Brundibár music rehearsal. When we reviewed the Lullaby, which the children use to stifle the villain’s song, we sung it tenderly and softly. Our conductor, Karen Hogle Brown, told us, “It isn’t a lullaby, it’s a fight. It’s a reminder that every person is human.” I liked the idea that we are human through our ability to create art, and I made a mental note to explore it later.  After our music rehearsal, we teens had a Friedl rehearsal. The younger kids went to a tech workshop, in which they learned and played theater games.

Muse singing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Then we stepped onto the bus and set off for the day’s main program: the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH), the oldest Holocaust collection in the United States. When we walked in, we were faced with the Tree of Testimony, a wall full of television screens that each featured a man or woman speaking to us. Our guide, a former teacher named Ruth Harris, greeted us, and she explained that every screen played the testimony of a Holocaust survivor.  Our guide explained that though the generation that witnessed the Holocaust first-hand will eventually be gone, “…once we have their accounts, we become the testimonies.”

LAMOTH - TOT

She led us next to the Goldrich Family Foundation’s Children’s Memorial, an outdoor space enclosed by a wall. Inspired by the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the wall has 1.2 million holes drilled into its slabs, some large, some small, representing the lives of children lost. We each had an opportunity to write a note to one of the children and place it in one of the holes, the size depending on the child’s age. I wasn’t sure what to tell the smiling boy on the slip of paper I received. I ended up writing that we would think of him as we performed our operas and be his voice. I rolled up the paper and slipped it into one of the smallest holes.

MOTH-Children's Memorial

Our guide then led us through exhibits filled with photographs, documents, and artifacts illustrating the history of anti-Semitism up through the Holocaust. She reminded us that anti-Semitism is still alive today, but that we can combat it.

“Hatred is learned. It’s not something that’s innate,” she stated.

Our tour finished, and, after thanking her, we headed to the Survivor Presentation room. At this time, it displays the Erich Lichtblau-Leskly Theresienstadt Collection, paintings by an artist from the very camp where Brundibár was performed, Terezín.

MOTH - Mr. Daniels

In that room, we got the opportunity to hear the story of Peter Daniels, a survivor of the Terezín camp. Mr. Daniels was born in Nazi-ruled Berlin in 1936, with the Nuremberg Laws firmly in place. These rules prevented him from going to school, parks, playgrounds, and movie theaters. Fear of the Nazis stopped him from even venturing outside. His single mother worked all day, and the laws prohibited Jews from hiring non-Jewish babysitters, so his childhood was profoundly lonely.

In 1943, the Nazi Gestapo deported him and his mother from Berlin, and they travelled for two days before reaching Terezín in Czechoslovakia. His experience in the camp was appalling, but he was one of the few lucky ones: out of the 15,000 children who arrived in the camp, only around 125 survived.

“I don’t remember any of the boys because most of them died,” he told us. “They came in, and three months later, they were gone.”

1944 Brundibar cast

He shared an account of life at Terezín. He told us how the Brundibár cast always changed because children kept leaving. He then told us about how he and his mother immigrated to America after liberation, and about his long struggle adjusting to the new culture and language. What moved me the most was the way he summed up his experience before, during, and after his time in Terezín. “When I was born,” he concluded, “I was already fourteen.”

We returned on Thursday with a renewed earnestness and dedication to Brundibár and Friedl. That day, as we continued learning new sections and worked on staging, a question arose in my mind: why was the opera titled Brundibár, after the villain? Karen and I looked into the program notes, but we couldn’t find an answer.

Friedl staging

Though the question stayed in my mind, I pushed it away as we rehearsed. One thing we focused on in Friedl was the acting—or lack thereof. “There is no need for acting,” our director, Eli Villanueva, told us. “Opposed to the heightened, cartoonish Brundibár, this needs to be as real and true as we can make it.” After visiting LAMOTH, we found that it was much easier to envision the world of Friedl. We were able to place ourselves in our characters’ shoes.

By Friday, we had loosened up considerably, and we spent most of the day laughing. Firstly, to encourage us to work on our diction, Eli promised twenty dollars to whoever first over-enunciated. After flourishing the bill in our face and calmly observing us spit all over the floor, he revealed that there was no way to over-enunciate, so his money had been safe all along. Then, later that day, when Eli was instructing us to express disgust at the two lead characters, Joe and Annette, he demonstrated with some devious facial expressions of his own. They included imitations of the Wicked Witch of the West and Ursula. Let’s just say that we’ll try our hardest at perfecting our sneers so that we won’t have to witness his demonstration again.

Friedl staging w/Eli

We did have a very serious discussion on Friday. The question about the opera’s title, Brundibár, had come up again: why was the opera named after the villain? Two of my friends and I talked about it, and suddenly, we had the answer. It was simply that Brundibár translates to “Bumblebee.”

On the first day, Dr. Stacy Brightman, Senior Director of Education and Community Engagement, had told us how the Nazis used Brundibár as propaganda, filming it to present the camps as thriving centers of culture. She had concluded, “Art can be a force for good, but here, art was twisted for an evil purpose.”

Brundibar staging

I then remembered my idea from Wednesday that our ability to create art makes us human. When I thought about what Dr. Brightman said, I realized that’s not quite it. What makes us human is our ability to choose to use art for good. With art, we can, like the bee does, either make honey or sting—though, as in Brundibár’s case, we can’t expect to use the stinger without consequences! So maybe the opera, Bumblebee, isn’t actually named just for the villain, but also for Joe, Annette, and all the rest of us. And perhaps the children who sang this opera in Terezín are the bees, too: though some believe that the size of a bee’s wings means that it shouldn’t be able to fly, it flies anyway.


Opera Camp: Brundibár Will Never Die

Muse Lee, our favorite high school blogger, has returned for a series on her participation in the Opera Camp production of Hans Krása's Brundibár. Performances will take place August 10 and 11 at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre.  This is her third post in the series.

 

Rehearsal on Monday marked the beginning of the second, and final, week of Opera Camp. At the beginning of the week, it was little scary to think that on Saturday, the curtain would be going up on our performance. We knew that we had some serious work to do.

Dancing

On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, we started to really piece together the production. Eventually, we began to bump-through rehearsals of Brundibár. Director Eli Villanueva and Movement Director Leslie Stevens constantly reminded us to engage our expressions and our bodies to the fullest, to the point of cartoonish exaggeration. Sometimes, though, we ensemble members got a little lazy; while the principals sang, we stopped investing full focus and power into the performance. Leslie reminded us that none of the characters have status unless we give it to them. Everything is built around our reactions. “The world is created by you guys,” she said. “Otherwise, the story doesn’t get told.”

Muse swooning 

In Friedl rehearsals, too, we were on our feet blocking from the beginning of the week. A depiction of the art classes taught by Friedl Dicker-Brandeis in Terezín, Friedl is as different from Brundibár as you can get. The reflective, realistic Friedl is a refreshing contrast with—and complement to—the splashy, stylized world of Brundibár. With a small cast consisting of only the teens, Friedl is strikingly intimate and personal. The opera itself is all about contrasts, too. The emotions expressed in the piece range from liberating joy to fear of death; the characters experience each within, and in spite of, the other. As the character Lilly sings, “With black, is always white/So I know from darkness, I’m sailing into light.”

Though Friedl and Brundibár rehearsals required a lot of energy, that doesn’t mean Opera Camp was all work and study these past few days—during every rehearsal break, the kids took over the piano and conducted some rocking sing-along sessions.

Lunchtime

After our rehearsal on Wednesday afternoon, we said goodbye to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and on Thursday morning, we were at our performance venue, Barnsdall Gallery Theater, for the first time. We started out with warm-ups onstage, where the set was already in place, and we began to get acquainted with the new space. After our warm-ups, we ran through several scenes in Brundibár and Friedl. It was a little difficult adjusting to the dimensions of the stage, but we started to get used to it. Though we have some aspects to work on, such as diction and breathing, we still have one more day.

Muse on stage

At the end of Thursday’s rehearsal, we had a special guest, one whom we had been looking forward to meeting from the very beginning: Ela Weissberger, Terezín survivor. She had sung the role of the Cat in all fifty-five performances of Brundibár in the camp. In the ten minutes we had with her, Mrs. Weissberger spoke to us for a while. Then, with Little Joe and Annette joining hands with her, we all sang the Victory March Finale, we in English and she in the original Czech.

Ela with Campers

As we marched alongside Mrs. Weissberger, my eyes welled up. For the first time, I keenly felt the triumph expressed in the music. Mrs. Weissberger had explained to us that when almost all of her cast-mates were sent to the gas chambers, she thought Brundibár had died with them. To her, we are all an avowal that Brundibár will never die.


Opera Camp: “Remember Me and My Friends”

Muse Lee, our favorite high school blogger, has returned for a series on her participation in the Opera Camp production of Hans Krása's Brundibár. Performances took place August 10 and 11 at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre.  This is her fourth and final post in the series.

On Friday morning, we arrived at our performance venue, Barnsdall Gallery Theatre, with side-parts, curls, and way too much hairspray. It was the day of the dress rehearsal.

Once everyone had arrived, we headed into the theater. Dr. Stacy Brightman, Senior Director of Education and Community Engagement, formally introduced Mrs. Ela Weissberger, the original Cat in all 55 performances of Brundibár in Terezín.

Ela and Stacy

The coming hour, Dr. Brightman said, would be the most important of Opera Camp. Mrs. Weissberger sat down in a chair, and we crowded around her on the floor. Mrs. Weissberger then shared her story. She was 11 years old when her family was deported. She recalled that it was snowing that day, and that she had begged her mother to take her home. Her story led us from the border-crossing in the icy weather, through the uncertain days in Terezín, through her liberation and return to civilian life, and at last, to the worldwide revivals of Brundibár. Despite everything, what amazed me the most was that her words were so full of light. She spoke of friendship and hope, and of her art teacher Friedl Dicker-Brandeis. “Sometimes, I hear her voice like it was yesterday,” Mrs. Weissberger stated.

Ela's painting

Though using names was not allowed and everyone was referred to by a number, Friedl told her students, “Children, you are not numbers. You have names.” Friedl encouraged her students to sign their names on all their work. It was an affirmation of freedom.

Mrs. Weissberger also pulled out a yellow felt cut-out and held it up in front of us. It was her original Jewish star. The only time she didn’t have to wear it was while performing Brundibár. She now calls it her “lucky star.”

Ela with Star

We finished our conversation with a question-and-answer session. Then, we headed into the auditorium, and with Mrs. Weissberger watching, we ran scenes from Friedl and Brundibár, accompanied by the orchestra for the first time.

A group of us spoke with Mrs. Weissberger a little more after lunch. Several people asked her about their characters in Friedl. Since she knew them in real life, her words were invaluable. She also showed us copies of illustrations by children in Terezín. One drawing by Mrs. Weissberger herself depicted a girl from Holland. Over her rendition of a Dutch bonnet, there was another set of lines. They were Friedl’s corrections. It gave me chills.

After our conversation, we ran Friedl and Brundibár in costume twice, with the staff giving notes on what to fix or improve. We were sweating and exhausted by the end, but Dr. Brightman had words of encouragement for us: Maestro James Conlon, LA Opera Music Director, had sent us all a letter. He wished us a wonderful performance and thanked us for participating in Opera Camp.  “Through (Mrs. Weissberger), and through the music of Hans Krása, you are connected to those children who performed Brundibár at Terezín 70 years ago,” he wrote. “I believe that you sing for yourselves, for each other, and for them as well. Someday, I hope you will share stories of this experience with your own children and grandchildren.”

On Saturday morning, the day of the first two performances, we warmed up and went over a few rough spots. Time soon ran out, though, and the audience started to line up outside. We retreated backstage and the house opened. Soon, places were called, and the performance began.

Brundibar cheese

We danced and sang, leapt and laughed, sweated and strained. After fifty minutes of sashaying, lunging, box-stepping, and marching, the orchestra hit the triumphant final note. The audience swept us up in loud applause, and as we bowed, we broke out into smiles—we had done it. Our production’s Cat led the original Cat onstage, and we all sat down to hear her speak. Mrs. Weissberger shared with the audience that this year marked the 70th anniversary of Brundibár’s first performance in Terezín. She went on to tell them about her experiences, just as she had with us. Joining hands with her, we rose to sing the Victory March once more. The next performance followed the same pattern. Completely exhausted, we straggled home.

The Cats

The next day, we arrived, ready for our final two performances. Our director Eli Villanueva reminded us of the 700 years of stage tradition that came before us. Everything we do is “either honoring what they have built or disrespecting it.” In the next two performances, I hope we made him proud.

As usual, Mrs. Weissberger finished the performance with a speech. In it, she recounted a special memory. Friedl would lead the children to the window, which offered a view of the mountains. She would say, “Children, look out. It’s a beautiful day.” Mrs. Weissberger’s voice grew meditative as she went on. “And Terezín is surrounded by mountains. ‘The sun is above those mountains. But what is important is what is beyond those mountains. Beyond those mountains is hope, hope that you will survive.’” Mrs. Weissberger smiled. “Here I am. I survived.”

Ela during performance

We sang the Victory March one last time with Mrs. Weissberger. Then, we bowed, retreated offstage, and hung up our costumes for the last time. While exchanging hugs, phone numbers, and goodbyes, we headed upstairs to the lawn for a little cast party.

Each of us received a goodbye present. As we munched on cake and other delicious desserts, we took a look at the gifts: a mounted group photograph and a copy of the program. On the program was a note from Mrs. Weissberger herself.

“Remember me and my friends
With love Ela
Cat from TEREZÍN”

She did sign her name.

Muse and Ellie

 


Falling in Love with Opera:
Free Performances for High School Students

Our favorite high school blogger, Muse Lee, returns to LA Opera's blog to talk about her experience with our LA Opera 90012 program for high school students. This program provides a free mini-subscription for students and their parents/guardians. 


Whenever I meet new people, one of the first things I say about myself is that opera is the love of my life. 99% of the time, though, my new friends think I’m joking. I hear what they aren’t saying, and it’s exactly what I used to believe: Opera is for the elderly. Opera is for the wealthy elite. Opera is boring, and it’s in strange languages, and it’s the pastime of pretentious snobs...

Three years ago, I started to change my mind. My teacher had raved about LA Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Ring. Just out of curiosity, I got the most inexpensive seats possible and went. She had told me that the Ring was a series, but she hadn’t informed me that it totaled 16 hours. Let’s just say that after the final curtain call, I was practically running out of the theater. In the weeks after, though, I couldn’t stop thinking about the experience. There was a lingering aftertaste that was impossible to ignore. I wanted to explore opera further. However, I had no idea how to take the next step, or even what the next step was. How could a fourteen-year-old enter the remote, grown-ups’ world of opera?

Ring photo

The answer eventually came: LA Opera’s program for high school students, LA Opera 90012. Through an essay competition, the program provides a pair of tickets for each participant and his or her guardian to four operas in the season. Though that alone got me excited, I had no idea that the program would be so much more than just free tickets.

ticket table

Firstly, there’s the Facebook page, where we talk about the operas, share classical music jokes, and play trivia games. Then, there are the opera events themselves. There’s more challenging trivia at the ticket distribution table, and sometimes, there are even dress-up opportunities. For the opera Cinderella, we all arrived at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion dressed as princes and princesses, and for a few hours, we let the music usher us into a completely different world. It was almost like an elaborate game of make-believe.

Muse and Mom

LA Opera 90012 also gave me an operatic partner-in-crime: my mom. Among my family and friends, I used to be the only opera nut, so no one really understood my “fan-girling.” LA Opera 90012 gave me a chance to share opera with my mom, and these days, she comes with me to many events. While I’m not sure if she’s a mega-fan yet, I’m happy to say that she nods off much less. Plus, all the operas we’ve seen together have led to many interesting conversations, as well as a bunch of inside jokes that no one else understands.

Romeo

As for me, LA Opera 90012 soon began seeping into my daily life. I started seeing opera everywhere I turned. After swooning over the opera Roméo et Juliette, I could read the play in English class without cringing. Since Latin and Italian vocabulary are so similar, I could sometimes get away with listening to arias instead of studying the nights before tests. Learning European history became more exciting because I could link historical events to opera plots.

table trivia

Above all, LA Opera 90012 showed me that despite what all the stereotypes may say—boring, pointless, foreign—opera is still relevant. The stories of the operas mirror our emotions, our relationships, our dreams. In the two seasons that I have participated in the program, many of the operas’ protagonists have been around our age: the hero and heroine in Roméo et Juliette, Cio-Cio San in Madame Butterfly (the opera that inspired Miss Saigon), the title character in Cinderella. Like us, they struggle with societal expectations, inexperience…and of course, angry parents! When I watch opera, I see works that are for and about us. We are the new audience. None of the stereotypes will be true unless we make them.

Muse and Sarvia

Maybe opera will bore you out of your mind, or maybe you’ll fall in love with it instantly. Maybe, like me, you’ll have to see a couple of operas before the art form starts growing on you. You’ll never know unless you try it. LA Opera 90012 is the perfect chance to do so.

Visit the LA Opera 90012 page for more information and how to apply. Applicants will need to write an essay completing the phrase, “I would like to attend the opera because...”  The deadline to apply is October 22, 2013.
Questions?  Contact us at 213.972.3157 or educom@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.