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Blog entries tagged with community

The Festival Play of Daniel Through the eyes of Community Ensemble Participant, Rachel Staples

Community Ensemble Member Rachel Staples rehearsing for The Festival Play of Daniel

When you are a budding performing artist, the small perks are big perks!  Even though I live in the valley, it is totally worth the drive to downtown to rehearse at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.  Something about being there inspires me, gives me hope, and encourages me on my performing artist journey.  Having my name on the comp list for parking at the Music Center downtown is always so thrilling, even though that may seem silly.  I feel really special driving in and putting my initials next to my name so I can park, as an artist, for free.  This is a small personal joy that embellishes my heart and makes me feel truly appreciated.  As we all piled into Rehearsal Room 4 for our first official rehearsal of The Festival Play of Daniel, I felt an exciting thrill. There were faces from last year’s opera, new faces I had never seen before, as well as faces of alumni from the performing arts college I work for.  This was very awesome to see.  I am very impressed by the young dancers, actor and singers.  The community ensemble is filled with all levels of talent, age, and experience.  It is an honor to be among such a group.

I must admit, one of the most exciting parts about the first rehearsal was hearing the main stage opera chorus rehearsing.  As we were going over the beginning announcements, we kept hearing impeccable voices echoing through the floors of the Dorothy Chandler.  Hearing these astonishing voices was especially enthralling to me as a young performing artist.  I love opera!  I love the powerhouse of sound!  Hearing the main stage chorus rehearsing was like getting a fast-blast-backstage-pass.  It was the icing on the cake for our first rehearsal.  Everyone in the room responded to these sounds.  Everyone smiled as their voices ticked our eardrums.

Listening to the Director of the LA Opera Education Programs, Stacy Brightman, speak about the integrity of the show and the expectations all of the performers was a confirmation of why I love being an opera singer – because I get to work with some of the most amazingly accomplished professionals in the performing arts industry.  Stacy sure knows her stuff and I love hearing her speak!  She has a remarkable poise that could get anyone in the world excited about opera.

Eli Villanueva directing Rachel and the cast of The Festival Play of Daniel

When we began to work with Eli Villanueva, the Stage Director, my passion for opera was once again strengthened and renewed.  Eli has a way of articulating direction that ignites the fire inside each person in his cast.  Eli speaks in ways that everyone (even the smallest of roles) feels appreciated, included, and important.  We all learn from his exemplified professional demeanor, and it is such an honor to be a part of his cast.  I am always on the edge of my seat to hear each resonant word he speaks.

I cannot wait until the next rehearsal, and I most especially cannot wait to be a part of the experience of the final community product – The Play of Daniel!


Saturday Mornings at the Opera

As rain pours from the darkened heavens, the young hero, desperately trying to survive a pit of certain eradication, does the unbelievable and defeats the evil snake. Good defeats evil once again. Reconnecting with his forest friends, after his grand triumph, the bear, panther, and human live happily ever after with only the bare necessities

At least I think that’s how I remember it.

The audience erupts with youthful cheers in delight. The lights come up letting us know it is time to leave. We all shuffle out to the lobby only to be met by those heroes and villains that were just on stage. Flashes of light emit from handheld polaroids as hundreds of children pose with the main stage characters.  Out the main doors, and into the blazing sun, I look to my brother then up to my mother whose guiding hand leads us safely to our old Toyota van.

That was the very first theatrical performance that I can recall attending. My mother took my brother and me to these plays in the summer, and I can remember, in a fuzzy recollection of my past, most of the shows: Babar the Elephant, Rapunzel, Cinderella, The Jungle Book and numerous others. The funny thing is, I remember this all through the eyes of a three year old. I remember they all occurred at the University of Houston. I remember the stage. I remember the entrance hallway. I remember the costumes. And I definitely remember, so clearly, Mowgli’s battle in the rainy pit with Kaa.

When I was asked to write a blog for LA Opera Education and Community Programs Saturday Mornings at the Opera, my first inclination was to write about how much fun the program was, how many different activities we offered to families, or how music can “take you anywhere you want to go”, as it says in The Magic Dream (LA Opera’s children’s opera based on W. A. Mozart’s The Magic Flute). But as I wrote I recalled my summertime theatre adventures, my brother, my mother, a stage, lighting, costumes, audience members, and music – everything that encompasses theatre and everything that my life has revolved around since – kept flashing through my mind. I quickly called my mother to chat about these old performances and although we’re thousands of miles away, I could hear her voice light up. She remembered it just as I did, but from the perspective of a young mother. We shared a beautiful moment twenty years later doting on a seemingly insignificant moment in time. And it hit me… these experiences – theatre with family, with friends, in a communal experience, just like Saturday Mornings at the Opera and The Magic Dream, affect you. My experience with my mother and brother in the theatre affected me deeply. Not only a fond memory we can all relive together, but both my brother and I lived, and breathed, the theatre growing up and now it is a part of my job to bring theatre to families, students, teachers and communities. We may not realize it every day, but because we here at LA Opera have programs like this we are planting seeds for the future. We hope to effect change within the community that we serve. We hope to instill knowledge and a love for the art form we hold so dear to our hearts. Our objective is to show our Los Angeles community that opera encapsulates numerous art forms all on one stage… LA Opera truly is greater than the sum of its arts.


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.


The Magic Dream – Day 4

The Magic Dream – Day 4 from LA Opera on Vimeo.

 

Question: How many tenors does it take to change a lightbulb?
Answer: One. He holds the lightbulb and the world revolves around him.

 

Opera singers are often plagued with stereotypes, even within our profession. One could easily substitute “soprano” in the joke above (apparently mezzo-sopranos are less prone to ego trips).

 

Scarves, Zicam, and water-with-no-ice aside, I wish for a moment to stand up for my fellow singers and address the most pernicious and cruel stereotype of all: singers are terrible musicians.

 

I suspect this assertion often comes from conductors, pianists, or instrumentalists frustrated with singers’ frequent musical sloppiness. We drop beats, we mistake accidentals, we ignore cutoffs. Don’t ask us to honor or care about the harmonic context within which we are singing. We don’t care. In fact, all we really care about is “how do I sound?”

 

Are we singers often guilty of this behavior? Sure. Is there any excuse for being a sloppy or careless musician? Absolutely not.

 

But if I could put this into perspective for a moment: singers are operating on a different paradigm than that of many other musicians. Instrumentalists are specialists; singers are synthesists. Singers are multi-taskers. We have to deal with music, words (usually in a foreign language), stage business, acting and reacting to our fellow singers, creating a believable character, and watching the conductor. And we have to do it all from memory.

 

Now, I’m not trying to belittle the work of the instrumentalist. On the contrary, I think we singers could take a cue from their attention to detail and the awe-inspiring commitment to hours upon hours of tireless practice, next to which most opera singers look downright lazy.

 

But it’s also important to remember that, while most instrumentalists have been working their craft since they were children, most singers can’t begin real operatic training until they’re about eighteen. That means that when a thirty year-old singer performs with a thirty year-old pianist, the pianist probably has about ten years more of expertise under their belt. When a singer drops a beat or seems obsessed with their own voice, it’s probably because so much of their attention is still absorbed by just trying to make their voice work.

 

Operatic singing is really hard. It takes most people about ten years before they can know with some certainty that the music that’s in their heads will come out of their mouths. Most singers I know have masters degrees, meaning they have committed at least six years of full time work on singing, language and diction, repertoire, stage craft, art song, theory, pedagogy, and rehearsal.

 

Singers, to sing well, can’t be stupid. And, like any art form, the closer you get to the best singers in the world, the less likely you are to find sloppiness or carelessness of any kind.

 

To make my point in a more lighthearted way, in the video above I put a camera on my head during rehearsal and noted how many separate events of stage business I had to accomplish in about 45 seconds of music. From memory. The count: 16. That’s an average of one move, which has to be synced to the music (meaning we have to listen and count!), every 3.5 seconds.

 

I hope that by bringing non-singers inside our experience, even just this little bit, we can, through understanding, begin to dispel this stereotype. I also, just as fervently, encourage every singer out there to go out and take some lessons in an instrument besides the piano.

 

In the end, singers and instrumentalists alike could be well-served by absorbing the best traits of the other.

The Magic Dream – Day 2

 

The Magic Dream, Day 2 – Meet the Cast from LA Opera on Vimeo.

I know opera has a reputation for being “heavy,” “long,” “serious,” and – dare I say it? – BORING.
I have to say though, that in the seven years that I have been part of this strange musical world, I have never met such a crew of boisterous, good-natured, good-humored, creative, silly, and passionate people. Maybe it’s because everything about this art form is so, well, BIG: big sets, big costumes, big voices. I guess it takes some pretty big personalities, too.
Our little opera, The Magic Dream, is pretty silly, as you will see. I was going to write a little introduction of our cast and creative team, but I think, in this case, video speaks a thousand words.

The Magic Dream, Day One – Rehearsal

The Magic Dream – Rehearsal Day 1 from LA Opera on Vimeo.

The Magic Dream
Day 1

There’s really nothing cooler than bypassing the towering glass facade of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, curving around towards the underbelly of the Music Center, and turning into the unassuming doors that are the artists’ entrance of LA Opera.

This is the big time.

In the room next door, Maestro Conlon is conducting the first sing-through of the upcoming Recovered Voices project. You get the sense of being part of something really big, really exciting.

And then the fist sing-through starts, and you finally get to hear what were, until now, imagined voices in your head. You’re part of a team with a common cause – the music!

Staging has already begun, and I can tell you now, this is a seriously talented – and seriously goofy – group of artists.

This is going to be fun.

Opera's Next Supercommittee

or: "How the LA Opera College Advisory Committee Prepares Young People to be the Next Generation of Opera-Lovers and Shows That The Company is Serious About a Very Modern Approach to Marketing Opera."

by Johannes Schmitt, LA Opera College Advisory Committee

In December 2011, I joined the inaugural LA Opera College Advisory Committee. Committee members are encouraged not only to be ambassadors for the art form, but also to act as sounding boards for LA Opera’s general strategy to engage and connect with a variety of audiences - many of them non-traditional. Most are potential opera-goers who have maybe attended a big musical (like Cats or Wicked), but have yet to be introduced to the pleasures of watching Don Giovanni brag about his promiscuity or hear Isolde mourn the loss of her lover Tristan.

Johannes Schmitt (pictured right) and a fellow LAO Commege Advisoty Committee member at the LA Times Festival of Books

I should note that I am neither a vocal student, nor performing arts professional (my background is in philosophy). I simply like opera in the way other people like knitting, baking cupcakes and watching NHL hockey games. Even though I recently went all the way to the Bay Area just to see John Adams' Nixon in China at San Francisco Opera (a rewarding experience), I usually don't travel around the country just to see the most hyped opera productions or stalk my favorite opera singers.  So why did someone like me, who simply likes opera, decide to join the College Advisory committee?

I think opera is not just a great art form (as we know from the new LA opera branding campaign, it is more than the sum of its (p)arts), but its special role in the arts raises a lot of interesting and sometimes challenging questions. I was and continue to be interested in the refreshingly pragmatic way in which LA Opera approaches these questions.

LAO College Advisory Committee working at the LA Times Festival of Books

For example, is the whole art form aesthetically past its prime? Are there ever going to be contemporary operas that parallel the great masterpieces of the 18th, 19th and early 20th century?  Does opera (unlike modern musical theater) resist innovation? And finally, is opera inherently elitist or bourgeois because opera subscriptions, just like expensive sports cars, tend to be associated with social status and prestige?

These questions seem daunting. But I think the answer can be very simple: The most effective way of showing that opera is not obsolete, irrelevant or elitist is getting new people - especially young people - from every zip code between Whittier and Westchester to be equally excited about new productions.

And a great way of getting young people excited about the arts is giving them an opportunity to experience them from the inside. That’s where LA Opera's College Advisory Committee comes in. Students gain insight into the carefully and meticulously managed operations required to produce an opera. They quickly learn to appreciate the hard work behind the seemingly effortless singing and acting. And they come to identify with their local opera company, which may make them more likely to be involved in their own (smaller-scale) community opera productions, volunteer their time for outreach campaigns and think about opera as a genre in new and creative ways.

LAO College Advisoty Committee with tenor Stephen Costello after LA Boheme Q&A

Like any other cause, opera needs to make an effort to recruit people who care about it. It is wrong to think that opera companies should not be concerned with recruiting (and also training) future stakeholders. Opera is not a sacred cow. The view that it is somehow blissfully immune to changing societal demands is as unfortunate as it is widespread.

On the bright side, just like we don't worry about other 'genres' of performing arts that are able to excite audiences (a Cirque du Soleil show in Vegas, say), we don't have to worry about the future of opera as long as it continues to draw new audiences. And just like other art forms, opera needs to be marketed intelligently. It needs fans, sponsors, subscribers, advocates, Twitter hashtags and Facebook likes. The leadership of the LA Opera College Advisory Committee does a great job of equipping young people with the tools (and the unforgettable moments) to share their personal stories and anecdotes about opera and spread the excitement. 'Hey, guess who I had a chat with last night? Mimi and Rodolfo from La Bohème!’  At the end of the day, that is what opera is all about: Great stories, experienced through music, and shared between generations of performers and audiences.


The Best Day of College You Ever Had

Having graduated in 2010 there is something that I realized. I miss college.

Many may share the same sentiment, but I know my pining is for more than the social surroundings and unparalleled freedom. My longing comes from my absence from the classroom: learning, growing, constantly challenging one’s self, and the influx of brand new ideas (or old ones presented with a new twist).

The classroom is a beautiful entity that I know we all take for granted while sitting in them. The communal experience where minds - no two exactly alike - listen, contemplate, share ideas, challenge thoughts, and take something with them by the end of the day that they didn’t have before – knowledge.

With that said, I am excited for the new season ahead because of the wonderful program here at LA Opera, spearheaded by our Education Manager, Jill Burnham, known as Opera for Educators.  It's like the best day of college you ever had!

Opera for Educators

This program takes place at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion where hundreds of teachers take seven Saturdays throughout our season to learn about opera.

Actually, “learn about opera” does this class no justice. This is a program that creates strategies for integrating art and the multidisciplinary art form of opera into teacher’s curriculum to reinforce important historical, cultural and socio/political events. Teachers develop and discuss strategies for making curriculum connections between opera and literature, language studies, cultural diversity, geography and the science of sound. Opera for Educators is a home for those teachers who seek to better their minds, better their classrooms and better themselves.

Opera for Educators

I was lucky enough to help Jill out during the course of Opera for Educators during the 2011-2012 season and my world view on opera dramatically shifted. Jill creates such a fun learning environment by inviting some of the most renowned minds to lecture on the music, history, and literature surrounding the opera in discussion. Every so often Jill even surprises her teachers by bringing in professional artists to give recitals singing pieces from the opera or other pieces by the composer. She’s also been known to nab directors, stage managers, costume designers, orchestra players and stars of the main stage.

If you are a teacher – and we all take the role of teacher, just as we all take on the role of student – then this is a program you should not miss out on.

To register and/or get more information, click here.

We look forward to seeing you at the Opera!


Community Educator Training: Grading the Presentors

Community Educators and Student Guest

The first time I heard about the Community Educators program was on Facebook. The post described what it was: a training program for speakers who would share their opera-love with audiences. Applying to join went down on my adult life to-do list.

The second time I heard about the program was by e-mail notification. “We are seeking middle and high-school students who would be able to give feedback during these presentation training sessions (for example: what works, suggestions for ways to improve their project/presentation, etc).” It looked like I didn't have to wait to get a taste of the program. I was punching in a reply and hitting “Send” before it all really registered in my mind.

So, a few days later, I arrived at the Dorothy Chandler and headed for the Artists' Entrance. Every time I walk through that door, a small thrill tickles me. I always imagine all the incredible people who have graced that threshold. It got even more awesome when I signed in and saw that some of my Opera Camp friends would also be there. And even going up the elevator to Rehearsal Room 1 was exciting. I mean, being in the elevator with (a framed portrait of) Plácido Domingo doesn't exactly soothe the nerves.

It only got better. Afraid that I'd be late, I had arrived a bit too early. It turned out to be a good thing—I was allowed to have a glimpse of some Foscari things in another rehearsal room. Believe me, when I saw the costumes labeled with the names “Domingo” and “Poplavskaya,” my heart nearly fell through the floor.

I managed to stay intact as I walked back to Rehearsal Room 1. People slowly trickled in, and I had a happy reunion with my awesome 90012 friends. After a while, the lady who's teaching the program, Carmen Recker, greeted us, thanked us for coming, and told us what the session would be all about. She explained that the educators had been training for weeks. At this point, each educator had selected an opera to present about, and had developed a corresponding activity. Alongside the other educators, we would act as their audience and try these activities out. Our job was to give feedback, providing the teenage student perspective.

I could hardly believe my ears. I was going to get community service hours for testing opera games? Gosh, I would have paid to get this opportunity to participate.

We launched into the night's program. First, Jessica Gonzales-Rodriguez stepped up before her audience of fellow educators and volunteers. Her task was to introduce Tosca to 8th graders. When she started talking, I noted on my paper the strong, assured way she addressed us. She told us what the upcoming activity was: we would get into three teams, Tosca, Mario, and yes—Scarpia. Each team got to choose a scene to act out. The catch was that we couldn't speak while acting. We could only use body language and facial expressions. Plus, we only had a minute for the scene. I was in the Tosca group. We did the scene when Tosca goes crazy about the way her boyfriend, Mario, painted Mary Magdalene's eyes. They looked suspiciously similar to the eyes of a girl who had visited the church... And I got to play Tosca! It was fun being an exploding diva for sixty seconds. Also, I think the activity as a whole will really let students get “inside” the opera. It'll probably make them curious about Tosca so that they can watch the scenes they acted out, to see the context, the singers' interpretations, everything. And, during the actual presentations, Ms. Gonzales-Rodriguez will also play the corresponding music of each scene in the background. Can I disguise myself as an eighth grader and join her teaching sessions?!

When the activity was over, we gave our feedback and then moved on. Next up: Annie Austin speaking about The Flying Dutchman, her presentation molded for AP 12th grade.  She was both humorous and matter-of-fact. She distributed packs of M&Ms into the crowd and then explained the activity: While excerpts from Dutchman played, we would have to keep passing along the M&Ms. When she paused the music, we would stop. Whoever ended up with a pack in their hands would have to answer a question—a question about the opera, about ghost stories, and about how the two connected. It sounded simple enough. Let me tell you now, though—her activity was one of the most stressful games I've ever experienced. We were unevenly spaced, so people were rushing frantically across the room to rid themselves of the M&Ms. Packs went flying and skidding everywhere. And all this was happening with Wagner roaring and bellowing in the background. Really, the epic-ness of the game could rival anything in his oeuvre.

Of course, we all gave positive remarks while we “recovered.” The next activity was a little quieter, so we started to calm down. The speaker was Judith Hyman, with a Madame Butterfly presentation intended for grade 8. The activity was one of the most thought-provoking of all of them so far. We had to put both Pinkerton and Butterfly on trial and determine: Innocent or Guilty? Just the notion of Butterfly being guilty startled my brain gears. Since Pinkerton was the one who left her, not the other way around, I had never considered that she may be the one in the wrong. We were divided into four groups: Butterfly Innocent, Butterfly Guilty, Pinkerton Innocent, Pinkerton Guilty. My group got one of the harder stances, Pinkerton Innocent. When we started discussing, we realized that the notion wasn't all that ridiculous. Maybe Pinkerton was just a product of his time. Maybe he didn't know how devastated Butterfly would be. Maybe Butterfly was just dumb to really think it was true love...After all four groups voiced their viewpoints, we were freed from our assigned stances. We all took a vote. Of course, Butterfly Innocent won. Still, I have to give Butterfly Guilty the prize for the funniest statement of the trial: “Butterfly was a spoiled, immature BRAT.”

The trial activity will be really effective with the students, I think. They'll want to go see the opera to deliver the final verdict for themselves. And plus, the idea itself of Butterfly being guilty destroys that stereotype of the innocent, wronged, heartbroken soprano. It'll definitely make teenagers think twice about opera itself.

We took a break after the Butterfly activity. Then, we all transformed into elementary school kids for Dorothy Mathious' presentation of The Magic Flute, created for second graders. First, she told us all about the character Papageno, a bubbly bird catcher. Then, we all picked some colorful feathers. Getting into the spirit of elementary school, we started whining, “I want the blue one!” “I want the red one!” Garrett Collins, Communications Coordinator, grabbed a whole bunch of feathers and started taunting the rest of us with “I got all the feathers! I got all the feathers!” We somehow remembered our maturity, though, and divided the rest of the feathers in a civilized manner. She told us to think of our favorite birds and to imagine that we were those birds. As Mozart's jubilant, airy music played, we flapped and paraded in a circle around the room, and whenever we heard Papageno's pipes, we leapt into the air and reversed directions. I have to admit that I was having the time of my life. I mean, I was starting school the next day, so it was nice to be a second grader again.

The fun couldn't last forever, though. Soon, the music ended, and since the next activity was geared right at my actual grade level—grade ten—I had grown up all over again. It was worth it, though. Erika Nadir presentation was wonderful. I really liked the way she spoke. She was very energetic, enthusiastic, and, most of all, natural. I have trouble being natural in public speaking, so I admired that a lot. Her activity was incredible, too. She split us into groups and gave each group one line from Tosca: Mario's delirious “Vittoria! Vittoria!” (Victory! Victory!), Tosca's grim, vengeful “Io quella lama gli piantai nel cor” (I planted that dagger in his heart), and Scarpia's thoroughly creepy “Tosca, mi fai dimenticare Iddio!” (Tosca, you make me forget God). We said or sang the line the way we thought it would sound, and then we heard the actual thing. I really thought it was such a wonderful activity. It put you in a composer's mindset.

The last presentation of the night was Elizabeth Burke's on Cinderella, aimed towards eighth graders. I got the sense that she really knew her material. It was very interesting to compare and contrast the fairytale with the opera. For one thing, there was no evil step-mother—it was a step-father. In the opera, the fairy godmother became a philosopher instead. And gone was the glass slipper. Rossini made it a bracelet. After we got the low-down on Cinderella, we did an awesome activity. We got called up to the front of the room, chose which character we wanted to be, and then answered audience questions as the character. Luckily, we had small fact sheets about our selected person to help us. After the questioning was over, we each got a mounted picture of Cinderella, or more precisely, of the Cecilia Bartoli recording. A lot of middle schoolers like role-play games and especially tangible rewards, so I think it'll work really well with eighth graders.

I really wouldn't have minded staying all night playing opera games, but unfortunately, that was the last presentation of the night. I left with a whole lot of things buzzing through my head: new insights, funny things people said...It was truly one fine day.


Why We Sing - LA Opera and City of Hope

Ashley Faatoalia at City of Hope

I've been fortunate enough to sing at several of the LA Opera's City of Hope concerts. While it's always an honor to participate as an artist, I have never received the response I did yesterday afternoon. 

Following the concert, I stayed outside the auditorium with my fellow artists to greet our audience. After several exchanges with people asking for photos, thanking us for coming, and asking about the company, I headed inside for a few photos with the ensemble. Just as I walked away, a lady approached me with tears in her eyes. She told me that she was a cancer patient receiving treatment on campus. She told me that things had not been easy, and that she almost didn't come to the concert. Then she took my hands and thanked me for "making time stop for a little while" and taking her mind off her illness. We hugged and I gave her my best wishes for recovery. 

Ashley Faatoalia at City of Hope

I don't share this often, but my father passed away in 2006 after a two year fight with pancreatic cancer. Whenever people ask who my heroes are, I always list him because he lived and fought against his disease for two years after the Doctors told him he'd be gone in a matter of weeks. I was raised by my mom, and my father and I didn't always have the closest relationship, but his illness brought us together in a strange way. I watched him have good days as well as awful ones. Even when he was at his worst, he found ways to take his mind off things (usually through laughter or music). One of my last memories with him is from my senior recital at Chapman University. He was clearly ill, the cancer was spreading, and he was not himself. In spite of all this he came and shared one of the most important musical events of my life with me and waited afterwards to hug me and tell me that I had done well. I cherish that moment. 

When this lady spoke to me so sincerely and openly, it touched me in a profound way and brought back memories of my dad. I feel proud to be a part of the Education and Commuity Programs department and the work that we do and blessed for the ability to change someone's day and make it a little brighter. 



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 – 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?


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!


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.