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Blog entries tagged with Behind the scenes

Musetta’s New Clothes

Only four more weeks until the opening of Puccini’s La Bohème and Musetta’s wardrobe seems to be right on schedule, or so we hope!

Meet the team responsible for all of Musetta’s magnificent costumes:   The team leader is Leslie Ann Smith, one of our talented Drapers here at the LA Opera Costume Shop.  Leslie Ann has been with the company for twelve years. This is actually the third time she’s worked on this particular production of La Bohème, and says it’s one of her favorite shows. She loves making costumes from the 19th century to the first half of the 20th century, so this show is right up her alley.

Leslie Ann works closely with her Assistant Draper, Jennifer Shaw. The Fashionista of the team, Jennifer has been with the LA Opera since 2005. She holds a degree in fashion, but prefers to work with costumes (and wear them too). What’s wrong with wearing period clothes, they were fashionable in their day!  Mrs. Shaw provides great support to the team.

Once Leslie Ann has studied the designs, she measures the performer, and then makes the patterns.  Jennifer transfers the patterns onto the beautiful stage worthy fabrics, cuts it, then hands it to the team’s Seamstresses, Hortencia Santos and Anna Wong, who meticulously stitch everything together and add the finishing touches.

Let’s not forget Hallie Dufresne (Senior Craftsperson), we all know you can’t complete an outfit without the accessories. Thanks Hallie! With the work of this team, I’m sure Musetta will be fabulously dressed in her new designs.

If not, then I guess Musetta in the nude will also be a great hit! La Bohème opens May 12 and runs through June 2nd. See you at the theater!


The Magic Dream, Day 7 – Dress Rehearsal

The Magic Dream, Day 7 – Dress Rehearsal Day! from LA Opera on Vimeo.

Dress rehearsal day, at last! And with it, the addition of the rest of our orchestra, with Vivian on midi and Salpy on flute. Just these two instruments supplementing the piano add so much to our little show. With the midi we suddenly have magic wand sounds, mock-glock(enspiel), and even an “audience applause” for our game show scene. And of course, you can’t have The Magic Flute (or Dream, in this case) without, well, a flute.

We sing through a few numbers with the band, tweaking a few musical cues here and there, and then we go right into our run. The cast is on fire – it’s amazing how a show tightens up when you get an orchestra and a few audience members in attendance. Suddenly new ideas pop into your head, the dialogue is snappy, and even singing feels better with more instrumental support.

This show came together really fast – in just a week of rehearsals we’re ready to go. We’re still doing some of this on the fly, though. Tomorrow’s first performance will also be our first technical rehearsal, done live in front of hundreds of children (hopefully rapt with attention and joy). It will also be the first time we get to perform in our finished costumes.

This afternoon the set will be loaded out by our capable crew and driven up to Malibu for our first two shows at the Smothers Theater at Pepperdine University in Malibu. Waking up at 5:30 AM aside, I can think of worse ways to prepare for a performance than winding my way through Las Virgenes Canyon as the sun burns off the last of the morning chill, waiting for the first sapphire gleam of the Pacific Ocean to strike my eye.

See you on the flip side!


The Magic Dream, Day 6 – In Which Katherine Finds her Funny

The Magic Dream, Day 6 from LA Opera on Vimeo.

I found my funny.

I didn’t know I was looking for it, but this show has certainly brought it out in me.

I had always been sort of serious growing up. Not that I didn’t have fun, but I was always a thinker, future-focused. When I went to theater school and received comment cards from my professors that read, “Katherine is a committed performer, but she seems serious in class,” I got so angry! “I’m just paying attention,” I would cry silently to myself.

Then I got into opera, into roles like Pamina, Violetta, and I got to suffer. I love to suffer onstage! I told myself that I was okay at comedy, and great at suffering.

I suffered happily for many years, until I was hired to play Gina in The Magic Dream, here at LA Opera. Gina is essentially a mash-up of three different characters in Mozart’s The Magic Flute: Papagena, First Lady, and First Spirit. That means she serves to forward the plot, deliver information, and act as comic relief.

In our version of the story, she’s really a magician, and since it takes place inside a dream, anything goes. Perhaps it’s knowing that these performances are meant to be for children, but I’ve felt such a tremendous freedom in exploring this character in all of her aspects, especially her voice and her physicality.

Most performers tend to have a “way in” to their character. Some create whole biographies for their characters, some need to find a quality they already possess in common with the character, and some don’t feel at home until they get into costume and make up. For me, it’s usually a mixture of all of the above, but something magical happened in the middle of our dress rehearsal when Eli, our director, walked onto stage in the middle of our kooky nightmare-gameshow scene and handed me a pair of diamond-encrusted, 1960s cat-eye glasses, à la Marilyn Monroe in How to Marry a Millionaire. Suddenly, I knew exactly who this crazy girl was, and my body naturally adopted her mannerisms: her extreme awkwardness with her limbs and her habit of pushing her glasses back up on her face when she’s excited.

I know my performance is waaaaay over the top, but I think children naturally have a highly developed sense of the absurd. No matter how big I get though, I always try to mean it, which is what I think makes it funny for the adults in the room.

I remember something else from theater school: comedic characters never think they’re funny. To them, everything is life-or-death.

As you can see in the photo below, I just wish people would take me more seriously.


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?


A Backstage Look at Day 3 of Scenery Assemble

The Tosca scenery arrived from Houston in three 53-foot trucks in thousands of small pieces. It normally takes our stage crew two or three days to assemble all of the pieces into a full stage setting. With rental or incoming productions, minor repairs often have to be made due to the stress of shipping and handling. By the end of the third day, we have begun to make these minor repairs and scenic touch-ups.

Tosca scenery LA Opera

Replica hand-carved foam sculptures were designed for this production. The sculptures are hard-coated with urethane foam and treated with scenic paint to look like stone.

Tosca Curtain LA Opera

Each act has a different silk curtain. These silk drops are weighted at the bottom with a drapery chain to keep them from fluttering around when the curtain flies in and out. Note that a small bit of drapery chain hangs below the curtain. This chain will be sewn back into the bottom of the drop. 

Tosca Scenery LA Opera

One of the final elements of the scenery to be assembled is the ceiling. The aluminum triangular trusses serve as a lightweight skeletal structure. The ceiling is attached and held in place by four batten pipes over the stage.

Tosca scenery

A scenic artist touches up the walls with gray paint custom-mixed to match the existing color. Note that the ceiling is now in place in the set.


Magic Flute: Tech Behind-the-Scenes

This production of Magic Flute marks the first time in opera that all physical scenery has been entirely replaced with video projections. 

Magic Flute Pamina

Pamina stands on a tiny revolving door platform that pivots out of the wall that serves as a projection screen. She is harnessed and buckled into the wall.  Monostatos stands on the first level of the stage. All other scenic elements are video projections. 

Magic Flute Stage Spike Marks

Different color tapes are used for “spike” marks. These spike marks serve as a road map to indicate the position of sets and props and performers. The integration of these elements is critical in a production as intricate as this Magic Flute with nearly one thousand video animation cues. 

Magic Flute Spike Tape

The yellow “Ts” are overall placements for where the performers stand for many of the projections.  There are a number of other different colored spikes for various performer and prop placements. 

Magic Flute Video Projections

The video animation is not one complete movie that plays from beginning to end.  It is composed of layers of separate clips. All clips are stored on a powerful computer (media server) and the stage manager, while watching the visuals and following the music, “calls” these cues accordingly to a projectionist. The projectionist then pushes a “go” button which executes the cue sequences. All of this is projected through one 18,000 lumen hi-definition projector located in a booth at the back of the orchestra level seating.

The video is mixed live for every performance because every performance is different based on the musical tempi of the conductor, orchestra and singers. Thus no two productions are exactly the same. 

While Magic Flute is on stage and show-ready, Falstaff is stored in the wings until the next performance of that production. It takes three hours to completely transform the stage from one of these productions to the other, ready for curtain. 

Magic Flute with Falstaff Backstage


Thais: Tech Behind-the-Scenes

If you look closely at the Eros statuettes in Act 2 of Thais you will notice that there are actually two different Eros statuettes. One beautiful shiny Eros sits on a pedestal in the gold room in Scene 1 and the other tarnished and worn-looking Eros (a breakaway prop) gets thrown to the ground in Scene 2.

The breakaway Eros arrived with the set. The gold room Eros is an interpretative sculpture inspired by Hypnos the god of sleep and created by our Resident Lead Scenic Artist Tony Reveles. The statuettes have different appearances to signify the passage of time and the distinctly different emotions and actions of the two scenes. 

Thais Eros sculpture LA Opera Tony Reveles

Using the original Eros statuette as a guide, Tony begins by researching images and then sculpting the head from modeling clay to get a feel for the figure’s dimensions. 

Thais Eros sculpture LA Opera Tony Reveles

Detail of the finished clay model

Thais Eros sculpture LA Opera Tony Reveles

In the next step Tony takes the dimensions from the clay sculpture and free-form draws the figure onto the foam block. 

Thais Eros sculpture LA Opera Tony Reveles

He carves away at the block carefully using precise dimensions from his primary sculpt. 

Thais Eros sculpture LA Opera Tony Reveles

Tony uses precision tools to further detail his final interpretation of the sculpture.  Note the original breakaway Eros head on the right.

Thais Eros sculpture LA Opera Tony Reveles

A coating of acrylic medium is added to seal the porous material prior to the application of the final surface treatment.

Thais Eros sculpture LA Opera Tony Reveles

The figure receives a scenic treatment of aged patina and gold leaf. This is the finished Eros sculpture in the gold room Act 2 Scene1.