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!
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!
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!
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!