Skip to main content

Information 213.972.8001

Blog entries tagged with education

Announcing LA Opera’s College Advisory Committee

We are thrilled to be forming our first-ever College Advisory Committee.  To kick off what we are sure is to be a really successful group of student leaders, LA Opera hosted an Information Meeting on November 16, which was a blast! We had a great group of students who battled rain and traffic to get to the meeting; everyone was really enthusiastic and asked tons of questions and had lots of ideas. LA Opera’s Director of Education and Community Programs, Stacy Brightman, started off the meeting with an overview of the department, a history of the company, and a brief explanation of what the College Advisory Committee is all about – helping LA Opera develop programs and marketing strategies geared towards college students, preparing participants to become opera ambassadors on their college campuses, and developing special marketing projects to coincide with main stage productions.

Stacy later opened up the floor to the students, and the ideas and suggestions were flying! Some had ideas on how to incorporate opera into their school curriculum, while others talked about using social media to advertise events happening at LA Opera and elsewhere in the city. There were groups of students who told us how they were already promoting opera, by creating community outreach programs and opera clubs on their college campuses. Everyone agreed that it was important to spread the word about opera to more Los Angeles communities.

So far, we have sixty-eight interested students representing twenty-five colleges and universities across the Southland, studying everything from music to economics to microbiology. There are native Angelenos, out-of-state, and international students. Some have been opera lovers since childhood; others have been fans for just a few years. But they are all passionate about opera, and want to spread their passion to their classmates, their schools, and their communities. We are so excited to work with these students!

And if you’re interested in joining the committee, let us know! Please e-mail us at educom@laopera.org or call (213) 972-3157 for an application.  Applications are due this Friday, December 9, 2011


Are you a College Student who Loves Opera? LA Opera Wants You On Board!

Education University Internships

LA Opera is excited to announce the recent formation of its College Advisory Committee. Working closely with LA Opera staff, this savvy group of students will not only help shape the company’s future college programming, but act as ambassadors for opera on their campus.

College Advisory Committee members will have access to exclusive behind-the-scenes experiences, as well as other opportunities for professional development.

LA Opera will be hosting an Information Night for interested college students on Wednesday, November 16 from 7:00pm – 8:00pm at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Refreshments will be provided. To ensure complimentary parking, please RSVP to educom@laopera.org or (213) 972-3157.


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 Camp Through the Eyes of A Summer Camper

LAO Opera Camp 2012

I'll be completely honest. On the first day of Opera Camp, I was terrified.
I have no singing experience besides school choir several years back—in fact, I was deathly afraid of singing in public. I wished to join Opera Camp solely because I love the art form and wanted to gain a deeper understanding of it.

LAO Opera Camp 2012

The first day of camp started out with the parent-student orientation. The orientation gave an overview of the camp schedule and briefed us on The White Bird of Poston, the opera we're going to perform: set during World War II, the opera focuses on Akiko, a Japanese American girl sent to an internment camp. Also, we watched a video about the Japanese Internment, which included accounts of survivors and activists. Most importantly, though, we were assured that it doesn't matter if you're brand new to singing.

LAO Opera Camp 2012

After the orientation was a movement session which warmed up our bodies. Next, we had the Chorus Rehearsal, during which we went over the Finale of the opera. Actually singing is what I had been anxious about all along. Somehow, though, when we all opened our mouths, the notes came out so easily and naturally. It was almost a let-down. I had spent over six years with an awful fright of singing and here I was, suddenly singing comfortably with the rest of the chorus. Where was the attack of muteness and silent sweating? Singing was actually...fun. I knew it then and there—camp would be absolutely awesome.

LAO Opera Camp 2012

The day only got better. While some of the principals remained behind for coaching, the LA Opera stage manager treated the rest of us to a wonderful backstage tour of the Dorothy Chandler. She explained how productions are set up and how props are moved back and forth. We got the chance to ask about the stage, about theater in general, and about specific moments in LA Opera productions. I'm happy to say that I got one burning questions answered. (No, Plácido Domingo did not have any hidden padding or protection during his terrifying Boccanegra death fall.)  Afterwards, she gave us a demonstration of stage managing, calling out corresponding cues for lights and props as we watched an archival clip from Hansel and Gretel. A lot of us really didn't realize how complex the backstage world is, and it was fascinating to witness the interplay between onstage and off.

LAO Opera Camp 2012

After our lunch break, we learned more about the Japanese Internment and about Poston Camp, where our opera takes place. Then, we began choreographing the finale. It was a bit challenging for the uncoordinated (*cough* me *cough*), but we had a blast!

The second day followed a similar schedule as the first. We reviewed yesterday's work and forged ahead to a new scene—a riot in Poston. Even though it was our first time working on it, the scene was absolutely incredible. With the high energy and intensity, all the kicking, fist-waving, and ad lib shouting, it was impossible not to believe what we were singing. We also had most of the set assembled, with the barbed wire fence and all, so we really got into the mindset of caged, infuriated prisoners.

LAO Opera Camp 2012

A highlight of Day Two was the tech workshop, during which an expert taught us about props and stage tricks. He talked about effects ranging from fog to fire to snow, and spoke at length about fake weapons. He had a lot to demonstrate with, too—one of the children got to smash a bottle over his head. It was a breakaway bottle, so it shattered easily and without those lethal edges. I think everyone's favorite (and least favorite) part was when he flourished a stage knife, told us it wasn't real, and to prove it, dragged it down his arm. Blood slashed through his skin. Everyone screamed. He laughed and revealed that there was a pipette of red liquid hidden in the weapon. I wish I could say that I knew he was faking, but I swear, my heart refused to calm down for another minute or so.

LAO Opera Camp 2012

Today, Day Three, was equally exciting and intriguing. Other than the usual movement, singing, and staging work, we also had a special guest, a member of the Blackfeet tribe. He guided us through a movement class based on traditional dances. We imitated elements of nature, including tumbleweeds, wind, and desert animals. In The White Bird of Poston, Akiko runs into the desert and encounters the creatures of the wilderness, as well as a Mojave boy, so the lesson with him was a perfect supplement to what we're doing. After lunch, we walked to the Japanese American National Museum, where we delved deeper into the history of Japanese Americans. The guide of my group actually lived through the internment. During the tour, we got to see the remnants of an internment camp barrack and artifacts from various points in Japanese American history.  

LAO Opera Camp 2012

Tomorrow will only be the fourth day, and I can already declare that I'm in love with this camp. And I'm not the only one! It's incredible how deeply we're going into all aspects of opera production: we're learning about the story's time period, about sets and props, about stage movement, and of course, about singing...now is that epic or what?

To see more photos from LA Opera's 2012 Summer Camp, click here!


Opera Camp: "Like A Constant Sugar Rush..."

If I had to describe the feeling of being an Opera Camper, I'd liken it to a constant sugar rush. Just when I think that camp can't get any better, it does. So many awesome things have happened just in the last three days.

LA Opera Summer Camp 2012 Singing

On Day 4 of camp, we had our morning movement session as usual, followed by the vocal rehearsal. During this one, we learned one of the main chorus sections of the opera. It's the song of the desert animals, who gather and speak of the unity of living creatures. My friend and I had to miss part of the rehearsal: we campers get called a few at a time to costume fittings, and it was our turn. The dress they chose for me, reminiscent of a lime-green picnic blanket, is something I wouldn't be caught dead wearing at school. In context of the opera, though, it's absolutely perfect. What I love about this camp is that they let us chorus members develop individual identities. We're not just members of a large blob. Now that I've seen what I'm going to wear, I feel like I have a defined part to play. I can't wait to rehearse with costumes--I know that it'll bring us to a whole new level of focus, intensity, and most of all, belief in what we're singing.

LA Opera Summer Camp 2012 Masks

The mask making workshop came after our fitting. Along with playing an internee, each chorus member also plays a desert creature. We all chose which desert animals we wished to represent. Then, we got the corresponding mask templates, along with decorative fabrics, feathers, and other ornaments. Unfortunately, some of us chorus members didn't participate in the mask creation. A few campers, including me and my aforementioned friend, had volunteered to be "waves.” We manipulate the river, which is made of two blue strips. We waves joined a coaching session with the principals to learn what we were to do. By the end, our arms ached like crazy from making river ripples. It was awesome to see the coaching session, though. We watched the principals rehearse a key scene in the opera. It was like getting a sneak preview.

LAO Summer Camp 2012

Day 4 ended with the staging rehearsal of the desert animals scene. Through most of it, we stand either in a half-lunge or a sumo wrestler position. It set our legs on fire. The scene has countless action cues, with animals constantly dashing on, off, or across the stage, as well as shifting into various positions—yes, all while singing. Other than being complex staging-wise, the scene also is pretty complicated musically. The scene features strange rhythms such as 11/8 and 5/8, reflecting the nonconforming, almost lawless nature of the wilderness. Thus, I had some trouble counting beats and figuring out when to start and stop singing. The scene altogether went brilliantly, though, even though it was confusing and tedious to put together. I wish I could watch this scene as an audience member. I've only seen the action from a corner of the stage. I can only imagine what it looks like as a whole!

The day after that—I don't know how to begin talking about the day after that. I have an urge to skip ahead and write all about what happened after lunch, but I'll start from the beginning. Of course, there was a movement session and a choral rehearsal, as usual. We learned one of the opera's early scenes, in which the internees attempt to cope with their awful situation. I'm beginning to feel more and more comfortable with hearing my own voice, and I'm learning all sorts of ways to improve my technique, which is making me really happy.

What followed the rehearsal was just epic. It was a timed scavenger hunt at the Music Center. A scavenger hunt. At. The. Music Center. Our group leaders received sheets with riddle-like “I am...” questions. Each group's mission was to find the object or location each question described and to take a picture of it as proof. The prize for the winning team? LA Opera tote bags that transform into backpacks. That did it. My group decided then and there that we had to win. We raced through the plaza, snapping photos as we went, and then flew into the Dorothy Chandler. Really, as I ran up those stairs, I felt like I was soaring—we were in my favorite place in the world, and we had it all to ourselves. Pure bliss.

Our happiness was short-lived. Unfortunately, though we correctly answered all the questions, another group completed the hunt quicker than we had. The youngest kids snagged the prizes. I'm glad that the little ones won—it tears my heart when children cry over games. Plus, if the other teenage group had beaten us, we never would have lived it down.

LAO Summer Camp 2012

We returned to Colburn School, our rehearsal building, and ate lunch. When we came back from the break, we had the wonderful opportunity to meet Chizuko Judy Sugita de Queiroz. She herself had lived through the internment, and her chronicle of those times, the illustrated book Camp Days, served as an inspiration for the very opera we're performing. She played us a documentary that displayed her vivid, striking watercolors, accompanied with her narration of her experiences. She then spoke about her life in the camps and of how her family coped after liberation. Then, she took questions from us. When it came time for her to leave, we thanked her by performing the opera's finale, the Bon Odori dance. Knowing that it actually linked to her family history, we were anxious to execute the scene perfectly. It was a matter of respect. Sure enough, we performed it better than ever before. I think she liked it—she was smiling broadly and clapping. What a relief!

My heart is speeding up because I'm getting to the highlight of the whole camp. When she left, we were visited by a group of a few more special guests. The group just happened to include Maestro James Conlon.

LA Opera Summer Campers with James Conlon

We were told the previous day that he would come, but still, I nearly screamed when I turned around and saw him there. After we took a group picture with the Maestro, we practiced the Poston riot scene with  our guests watching. Needless to say, being brand-new to singing and having James Conlon right in front of me was terrifying. I had an awful feeling that of all days, this would be the day I would sing at the wrong time or make some other glaring mistake. Everyone else was feeling the same. Just like a few minutes ago, we were determined to present a flawless, seamless performance. The scene started, and we plunged ourselves into the action and the music. We shouted louder than ever, our notes hot and raw, as if only born in that instant—THE James Conlon was watching. It's ironic that we did it all for him, and yet, we got so into it that we almost forgot that he was there. When it was time for the chorus to retreat offstage, I actually had to blink and look around. I realized that I was on the verge of tears--since I had thrown myself so fully into the action, I was starting to cry from real rage. I left camp that day a bit dazed, both from the Maestro's visit and from the riot scene we performed.

Though today is Saturday, we still had camp. I felt a bit dorky. It was the weekend, and there I was,  heading out the door with my backpack and sack lunch. Like our director said, though, this camp is supposed to make us feel dorky, so I'll embrace it.

We've finally gone through the entire chorus part of the opera. We learned the last bit today. Then, unlike any other day, we had three staging rehearsals, which pretty much constituted our whole schedule. We ran through the entire desert scene, perfecting our animal movements and memorizing our cues to shift, enter, or exit. All together, we rehearsed a scene that the principals had previously only practiced on their own. It's a pivotal moment in the opera, when Akiko encounters the spirit of her grandmother.  For us chorus members, it was the first time watching it and learning our roles in it. The production is really all coming together.

I've never been disappointed about having Sunday off before. I guess this is the camp of firsts for me: first time singing in an opera, first time singing at all, in fact...Of course, it's challenging and even scary, but that's why I love it. I'm already stoked for Monday—the constant sugar rush from Opera Camp shows no signs of stopping.


Opera Camp: "The production is seriously almost there!"

When I think about where we were on Day 1, clumsily going through the Bon Odori motions, and in my case, cringing in fear at the prospect of singing—really, it's kind of hilarious. The production is seriously almost there.

LA Opera 2012 Summer Camp - Rehearsal

 On Day 7 of Opera Camp, Kalani, the Blackfeet tribe member, came to work with us again. His lesson was truly a gift: he explained that the tribal movements had long been passed down from teacher to student. His mentors had granted him special permission to impart his knowledge to us. At the beginning of the session, Kalani taught us a chant, and then organized us into concentric circles. As we strode around and around, with him singing one phrase and us singing the next, one camper asked what the words meant. Kalani replied that it didn't matter. We were creating our own intention.

 In my opinion, that was the main lesson he bestowed upon us. After the chant, Kalani went one by one to each group of desert animals, helping us develop more convincing portrayals. At that time, since we weren't even wearing masks, we felt that we had to try extra hard to make sure we were understood. Thus, we ended up creating caricatures of the animals: those playing winged creatures dramatically flailed their arms, and others, representing coyotes, made a big show of wrinkling their noses and snarling. Kalani noticed this, of course. He told us that we didn't have to behave as our animals. Instead, we had to really get inside the animal. Our actions should spring from that, not from an idea of how our chosen creature “should” look. The audience might not understand the meanings of our gestures and glances, but they will believe it because we believe it. Again, we have to create an intention.

LA Opera 2012 Summer Camp - Rehearsal

 We gave Kalani a huge thank you for the great lesson. The rest of Day 7 consisted of rigorous rehearsals. We didn't get as much staged as we would have liked. Our director, Eli Villanueva, then reminded us that this isn't really a “camp,” where children run free screaming. This is a professional production.

 We took this message to heart. Four rehearsal sessions later on Day 8, we had finished staging the entire opera. Sure, we were a bit shaky on cues and transitions, but as Eli said, we had all the puzzle pieces completed. Now, we had to fit the pieces together to form a tight, cohesive whole.

 That day, Day 8, was also our last day in our wonderful rehearsal space, the Colburn School. It was a bit sad to say goodbye. However, we were all excited to finally practice in the Barnsdall Gallery Theater the next day.

 Today, which is Day 9, everyone arrived at the theater a bit too early. I guess I wasn't the only one paranoid about getting lost and missing the upcoming field trip. (For the record, that didn't end up happening to anyone.) Around nine o'clock, we squeezed into the bus and headed off for the Autry National Center of the American West.

LA Opera 2012 Summer Camp - At the Autry Museum

 Unfortunately, when we arrived there, it hadn't opened yet, and the temperature was already climbing higher and higher. To pass the time, one of our counselors, Garrett, organized us in a circle, sat us all down on the grass, and announced that we were going to play a fun game: Duck, Duck, Goose. Luckily, we were saved by someone's decision to take a group photo.

 We waited a little while more after that then entered the museum. Our group was split up. The younger children went one way, and we older campers the other. First, my group's docents presented a demonstration of Native American instruments. They were mostly percussion, as the emphasis of Native American music is rhythm, not melody. There were drums, clapping sticks, and many, many rattles, including a turtle-shell one to be tied to one's waist. One of our campers had to demonstrate. He strapped on the shell, dancing and shaking his hips to coax out a noise. I have to say, it was wonderful entertainment. After the lecture was over, we made our own clapping sticks with two pieces of wood, cardboard, yarn, and beads. They don't look like much, but when tapped on one's palm, they make a surprisingly loud noise. Rhythmically slapping the sticks got so enjoyable that our creations almost had to be confiscated.

 Next, we went upstairs to tour a special exhibition: The Katsina in Hopi Life. Besides getting a glimpse of the Hopi daily life, learning about the Katsinam was also extraordinarily intriguing. (Yes, the plural is Katsinam.) The Hopi believe that the Katsinam are spirits who visit during a certain season, participate in festivals, educate the people, then return to their homes in the clouds, reverting to non-corporeal forms. Of course, we campers had many questions for the docents, mostly fed by skepticism. Our docent declined to answer some of our inquiries out of respect for the culture. I guess I'll have to wonder about the Katsinam for the rest of my life. I think we invoked some sort of spirit, though--when we returned to the bus to fetch our lunches, we found our belongings rearranged, with some bags even slightly open. It was probably just a staff member clearing up the space, or perhaps the bus driver, but I like to believe it was the Katsinam, angered that we doubted their existence.

I'll be honest: after the tour, a lot of us were wondering about the connections between our field trip and the opera. I thought about it a little, and I realized that there are many. First of all, learning about the purpose of Native American music pretty much explains the 5/8, 12/8, and 11/8 in the opera's score. The unusual meter draws equal focus to the rhythm as to the melody. The docents also told us that Native American songs often repeat the same musical phrase over and over again, as their purpose is not storytelling. Only now have I realized that the animals, which partially reflect Native American culture, pretty much sing a single line throughout the opera: “Everything breathes with the Great Spirit. We all breathe as one.” Come to think of it, I'm glad we've gotten the Native American perspective on the not only the music, but also the plot. Since the opera mostly follows Akiko and her experiences in the camp, we never really see the Mojave Boy's story. The Opera Camp staff members explained to us early on that Poston is essentially an internment camp in an internment camp. Situated in a Native American reserve, the camp was actually run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. I feel like I've grasped that concept more, now that I've gotten a taste of Native American life. In the opera, the Native Americans no longer seem vague and elusive to me.

LA Opera 2012 Summer Camp

We ate lunch at the museum's picnic tables, and then rode the stuffy, sweltering bus back to the Barnsdall Gallery Theater. I swear, the cool air conditioning in the building felt like a gift from the gods. We went through the lobby and finally saw the space we'd perform in. I instantly loved it, from the mellow blue color scheme of the auditorium to the inviting stage, already housing the assembled set. 

LA Opera 2012 Summer Camp - Rehearsal

As I stepped onto the stage and looked out, I already began to feel nervous. Nothing can prepare you for the sensation of being onstage singing for the first time. No matter how much you practice, you almost forget everything when you feel the shifting heat of the lights, or stare into the black hole of the auditorium. Also, the dimensions of the space disoriented me. While in Colburn's rehearsal room we could ooze all over the place once “offstage,” it wasn't so in Barnsdall. The wings are extremely small at Barnsdall, and they clog up very easily. We had to constantly remind ourselves to get out of the wings, pack together tightly, and retreat all the way into the dressing room. I'm glad I've pretty much figured it out. Though we didn't review the entire opera today, I at least feel like I've gotten to know the place.

The performance is only the day after tomorrow. The last puzzle pieces of the production are settling into place. It's time to review everything, quit speaking, and hope for the best.


Opera Camp: It's A Wrap!

Opera Camp 2012 - The White Bird of PostonPhoto by Taso Papadakis310.619.3563taso@tasophoto.com

I've been staring at a blank screen for the past ten minutes, trying to devise a clever opening sentence. It hasn't quite registered that Opera Camp is really over. So, for lack of a better introduction, I'll just start from Day 10.

First thing in the morning, we had special visitors who came to speak to us. Not one, not two, but ten Japanese-Americans came to speak to us about their internment camps experiences. Some of them even had been in Poston, the setting of our opera. We campers split up, the younger children going with five of our guests and the older campers going with the rest. Our guests took turns speaking, sharing their backstories and describing their lives in the camps. Their accounts really intrigued us. One of our guests explained how students took tests: they would go outside and write their answers in the sand. Another former internee had a father who fell ill. He had to be transported to another camp, so his family couldn't even visit him. He passed away among strangers. What struck me the most, though, is how one  former internee persisted in calling the camps “concentration camps.” Sometimes, history seems very cold and distant, with facts, dates, and statistics. When I heard the personal accounts, though, I kept wondering what I would do if I had been there with them, and how I would feel. That's how the Japanese Internment became real.

After all five of our guests had spoken, they took questions from us. We had so much to ask that a few campers skipped break time to talk to them personally.

LA Opera 2012 Summer Camp

They then stayed to watch part of our rehearsal. Our instructors had to stop us multiple times to backtrack and redo. I started feeling nervous, knowing that the performance was only the next day. After that bump-through rehearsal, we ate lunch on the grass outside the theater. Unfortunately, some people got only around ten minutes to devour their food: they were calling us in group by group to get into costumes. My group, the White Group, got called last. We got the entire lunch period to eat. Cue evil chuckle.

LA Opera 2012 Summer Camp

Somehow, after lunch, we fit in time to run through the entire opera twice. For the first time, the full orchestra accompanied us, not just the piano. Some musical cues sounded different on the added instruments, throwing us off. Also, it was our first time running with costumes. We had no idea how rapid some of the changes are. During the riot scene, only about eight people emerged from the quick-change on time. Since the set movers hadn't arrived, a whole piece of the fence was missing. Still backstage struggling into costumes, none of the soldiers rushed to shove them back, so the small group of internees stood there awkwardly rocking back and forth, waving fists at nonexistent barbed wire and looking altogether quite ridiculous. Luckily, we sorted it out by the second run-through, and almost nobody missed cues.

LA Opera 2012 Summer Camp

We got to sleep in the next morning, as the call-time was a little after noon. Still, I woke up earlier than I would have. I had to sort out my hair. They had given us guidelines about 1940s styles, accompanied with example pictures. After looking through them, I came to the unfortunate conclusion that I'd have to curl my hair. I nearly screamed when I saw the result in the mirror, but I reminded myself that I was playing a part. Nobody cared what I really thought about my hair. Deciding that I would survive, I headed for the Barnsdall Gallery Theater.

As a group of us walked into the building, my heart jarred in my chest. That day was the invited dress rehearsal and the opening night performance. Remembering the previous day's mishaps, I began going into worst-case scenario mode. When we did our routine stretches and vocal warm-up, I started to calm down. Soon, our audience arrived. All went quiet backstage. Before I knew it, we launched into the performance.

LA Opera 2012 Summer Camp

We had rehearsed so many times that everything just flowed. The lines and the actions had become instinct. We hardly noticed the opera going by because it was all so natural.

There's nothing like the curtain call after a performance. We gave the audience our energy and they replied with focus and investment. The applause is when the silent communication, the unspoken dialogue, becomes physical.

An exhausting performance inevitably leaves one hungry. We all headed off to lunch at the loading dock, where they served us pizza and drinks. While we ate, our instructors gave us notes on things to improve. Performance #1 commenced afterward: the Opening Night performance. It grew even more fluid and intense than before. The audience rewarded us with a rush of applause.

It all ended around eight thirty. By the time we returned home, we pretty much straggled to our beds and collapsed. Besides, we had to rest well for the following two performances.

Opera Camp 2012 - The White Bird of PostonPhoto by Taso Papadakis310.619.3563taso@tasophoto.com

The next day followed a similar pattern as the first. It's funny how quickly it settled into a routine: curl hair, go to Barnsdall, warm up body, warm up voice, review some scenes, start performance. We poured out all the energy and emotion that we could. During lunch afterward, our director Eli told us that the opera was beginning to touch excellence. He explained that there is no such thing as perfection—there must always be something we can improve, a new aspect we can explore. Our final performance was approaching, and we had to make the leap to excellence.

I daresay, we did.

Opera Camp 2012 - The White Bird of PostonPhoto by Taso Papadakis310.619.3563taso@tasophoto.com

You know, I'll admit—because there are young children participating in the program, I thought that The White Bird of Poston was a kiddy show. Also, because of my lack of musical experience, I was so afraid of somehow “failing” Opera Camp that I listened to the recording literally three times a day. Well, it goes without saying that it was pretty much impossible for me to get a fresh perspective on the piece. Even throughout the program, though I admired the opera, and though we put so much work into it, I still kept on believing that everyone would see it as a children's piece. After the performances, though, I heard people marveling at the complexity of the music and the staging. Audience members enthusiastically praised the performance, pronouncing that all aspects of it were so professional that it could actually make profit. I'm definitely not an expert, so I don't know about that. What I do know, though, is that it's certainly not a kiddy show. Opera Camp has surprised me until the end.

After the last performance, when I hung up my costume for good, I felt surprisingly calm. It just wouldn't sink in that Opera Camp was over and that we had performed White Bird for the last time. I headed out to the loading dock with my friends. As a farewell present, each camper received a mounted group photograph and a copy of Camp Days by Chizuko Judy Sugita de Queiroz, signed by the author and illustrator herself. A while later, we all went out to the grass, munching on cake and cookies and chatting. Of course, the inevitable time came, and we all said our goodbyes.

Opera Camp 2012 - The White Bird of PostonPhoto by Taso Papadakis310.619.3563taso@tasophoto.com

Twelve days. Opera Camp was only twelve days total—less than two weeks. Somehow, the first day of Opera Camp, when I couldn't sing to save my life, seems geologic eons ago. And somehow, in the space of twelve days, we assembled a beautiful performance from scratch. I'm wandering into the mawkish and moralistic here, so I'd better conclude now, by saying this: during one of the final rehearsals, when we got a bit chatty and goofy, Eli sternly told us that we aren't here to have fun. We're here to be fulfilled by making art. Well, now that camp is over, do I feel fulfilled? Of course—I'm still slightly dazed. And don't tell Eli—but did I have a blast while I was at it? Oh, yes.


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.


It's all fun and opera games...more Community Educators Training

LA Opera Community Educator Training

Every day, I reaffirm how strange life really is. Take my first volunteering session. I flew into a diva rage, flung M&M packs everywhere, slammed Cio-Cio San, pranced around the room like a bird, declared that I had stabbed someone, morphed into Cinderella's step-sister, and then, for all of that, got community service hours. And I'll admit: I had the time of my life. So, it goes without saying that I returned for the second volunteering session.

My fellow Opera Campers weren't there this time, but Mariana Silva, the Education Programs Assistant, brought in a whole bunch of teenaged friends. Carmen Recker thanked all of us for being there and briefed us on what would happen that night. In the background, we could hear some singers rehearsing in another room, which was getting me really excited.

I soon diverted my attention from the voices, though, because the presentations were starting. The first one was Sean Mulstein's about one of my favorite operas, Tosca. It was created for in-school Opera Clubs. He was enthusiastic and well-paced. He talked a little about Tosca, and then moved onto the activity: Tosca jeopardy. He divided us into three teams: Team Tosca, Team Mario, and Team Scarpia. For every question, each team would send a representative up to the front. If their teams knew the answer, the representatives would raise their hands. It sounds relatively docile, but the intensity skyrocketed. We were dashing back and forth to communicate, not-so-discreetly whispering answers. The highlight was the Daily Double. The slide pronounced, “Name this aria.” As he hit Play, we braced ourselves for the gloomy blue chords of “E Lucevan le Stelle or the crisp notes of “Recondita Armonia.” Then, without warning, Carly Rae Jepsen bleated out of the speakers, “Hey, I just met you, And this is crazy, But here's my number, So call me, maybe?” I was simultaneously thoroughly confused and laughing my heart out. Needless to say, we all loved the activity. It was interactive, and the questions were challenging—well, aside from “Name this aria.”

We then moved on to the seedier world of Don Giovanni, as presented to us by Stephanie Wilson. The presentation is for eighth graders, and she spoke in a very direct, natural, candid manner. As for the activity, it was hilarious. Again, we got into groups, and each group was assigned a character. Our task was to write messages to any characters we wanted to. (We can text Don Giovanni! We can Facebook message Donna Elvira! Who says opera is stuffy and pretentious?) My group was poor Donna Anna. After briefly staring at the blank page, we composed an e-mail regarding funereal arrangements for Il Commendatore. After some more thought, we wrote a Facebook message directed to the other women, warning them to stay away from Don Giovanni—apparently because he's dangerous, but actually because he's ours. Lastly, we wrote a tweet to the big cheese himself, and it went like this: “@Don Giovanni: You're a jerk. #JustKidding #TiAmo.” All done with our messages, we read them out loud. 

For me, though, the activity didn't end there. It got me thinking about what nasty things I would say if I could text opera villains. And that, I think, is why the game was so effective. It made me continue thinking. (But seriously. Somebody give me Pinkerton's number.)

After the Don Giovanni presentation, David Yaroslavsky stepped up to deliver his presentation about The Flying Dutchman, intended for tenth graders. He was clear and casual as he introduced the opera and the activity. His game worked like this: there was a basket filled with slips of paper. Each of the slips had a word or phrase related to the opera, like “Seven years,” “German,” and even “Pirates of the Caribbean.” We would get into three groups. The groups would take turns sending up a person, who would draw out a slip and describe the word or phrase on it. Once his or her group guessed the word or phrase correctly, he or she would draw another slip. This would keep going until time ran out. Each slip the group had gotten through would count as a point. The group with the most points would win. The first round went on until we ran out of slips. Then, Mr. Yaroslavsky tossed all of the slips back in and began Round 2. The rules for Round 2, he explained, would be different. When describing what was on the slips, we could only use one word. Well, we started getting very confused, using vague hand gestures and glancing around helplessly. Some of us were really clever, though. One person up front glanced at the slip and called out “Heavy!” Miraculously, a group member immediately answered “Leitmotif!” Just when we thought we were getting good at it, though, Round 3 started. And in Round 3, no words were allowed. At all. We flailed our arms and twisted our faces into various expressions, going crazy trying to make ourselves understood. One of the funniest moments was when someone read the slip and then pointed at Ray Busmann, one of the educators. We started rapid-fire guessing, but every single answer received a shaking head. In despair, someone called out, “Johnny Depp?” Finally, another person got the correct answer: German. Mr. Busmann, though, was too elated to hear. “Who said Johnny Depp?” he gloated. “Who said Johnny Depp?!”

Community Educator Training

Since we had gotten through three presentations, it was time to take a break. After that, it was back to work with Mr. Busmann's presentation on Don Giovanni. Its target audience was tenth grade. He was absolutely hilarious—confident, assured, and humorously raw. He chose several of us to be Don Giovanni characters and proceeded with his Jerry Springer-style “talk show.” First, he gave a dramatic speech about the lives and loves of men and women. Then, he called the characters up one by one, playing corresponding music as they sat down. As the audience, we got to cheer or boo as he put them through merciless questioning. “Would you ever be faithful to one woman forever?” he asked our Don Giovanni at one point. Giovanni replied with a grin, “If there were only one fish left in the sea.” Of course, we howled with studio laughter. At last, with only two minutes left, Mr. Busmann thanked his interviewees and delivered his closing speech. He pontificated once more about the sorry romances of mortals and said goodbye to the audience.

The whole thing was so funny that it's impossible to forget, but there are several other elements that I think made the presentation so effective. It engaged the audience the whole time, since we got to react to everything that happened. Also, Mr. Busmann chose marvelous selections from Don Giovanni to introduce the characters, and as the participants strode up to their seats, they started moving to the melody. They had gotten inside the music and the music had gotten inside them.

The next activity was on Madame Butterfly. It was created by Eduardo Mollinedo-Pinon, and the target audience was sixth grade. After speaking for a minute or so, he gave us our imaginary scenario: we had to explain a certain Madame Butterfly character to a friend via messaging. The message would be in haiku format, with five syllables in the first and third lines and seven syllables in the second. He divided us into small groups and assigned each group a character. Our group got Butterfly, and the others got either Pinkerton or his American wife, Kate. Mr. Mollinedo-Pinon's assignment seemed pretty simple, since there were only three lines. But that was exactly the problem. How to summarize that huge, complex story in only seventeen syllables? We stared at the paper for a long time. Eventually, we managed the task of reduction, conceiving a very depressing poem. We all read our finished haikus out loud. I really didn't expect that wide variety of style, content, and word choice—some poems were casual and lighthearted; others, like ours, were just tragic. I didn't realize how open the project really is. I think it'll work wonderfully with sixth graders.

Like the previous volunteering night, this night closed with a Cinderella activity. This one, though, was created by Rachel Staples for AP level 12th graders. And this one just happened to be a dating game. Before the main activity began, she talked a little about Cinderella, her speaking both candid and matter-of-fact. Then, she asked the men to imagine that they were the prince of Los Angeles—what kind of girl would they take to prom? She turned to the ladies and asked us what traits we would like in a man. When we finished this exercise, she picked one of us volunteers to be Prince Ramiro, and selected three more of us, including me, to be Cinderella and her stepsisters. Without our Prince hearing, we sorted out who would be which character. Prince Ramiro, back turned and oblivious to our identities, began questioning us: he asked about matters such as what we'd do with large sums of money and how we would treat a beggar. Finally, at the end, he was asked to guess which one of us was Cinderella. Yes—it was me.

And thus ended my beautifully strange day. Echoing Cinderella, I couldn't stay at the LA Opera palace for long—I had to get home before midnight. And echoing Mario Cavaradossi, I could also say this: “E non ho amato mai tanto la vita!”


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. 


Opera for Educators in one word: Enthralling

 If I had to sum up what Opera for Educators was like in one word, it would be “enthralling.”

The 2012-13 season at LA Opera has it all, intrigue, political upheaval, sex, murder, pirates, black curses, eternal and tragic love and, of course the occasional annoying step-sister or two. This season is filled with classics, celebrating Verdi and Wagner’s 200th birthday; throw in a little Rossini here and little Mozart there, and you have a sensational season.

Michael Hackett and Mitchell Morris

Two weeks ago we held our season’s first Opera for Educators class focused on our first production of the season, Verdi’s The Two Foscari. I had an early start to the day coming in around 7 in the morning to set up tech for our speakers. Jill Burnham, our wonderful Education Manager, had Dr. Michael Hackett, chair of the Theater department at UCLA, Dr. Mitchell Morris (always a crowd favorite), professor of musicology at UCLA and the incomparable Maestro James Conlon come to speak to our educators!

As a college student, it just doesn’t get any better than this: an entire day devoted entirely to the study of one opera from experts in the field! Dr. Hackett gave an introduction to the opera, its setting, its direction, its roots in Byron’s play, and how the music reflected the libretto. After Dr. Hackett, Dr. Morris introduced Verdi in the realm of the Bel Canto conventions, as Verdi was the last composer of this style. Dr. Morris has an incredible ability to distill the essence of his talks into vocabulary that is accessible to people of all musical or non-musical backgrounds. His vibrant personality and clever humor is always a hit with the crowd. It’s always a treat to listen to him. He is an extremely generous speaker and one who shares his passion eagerly. His incredible insight into opera is all the more enriching because he is a professor of musicology. Analyzing the music, the melody, harmony, the texture of the orchestration or how the rhythm of an aria reflects a vital aspect of the character is getting to the meat of it. Connecting the dots between the music and the drama makes the picture all the more vivid.

Now, by the time Dr. Morris began his lecture, I saw Maestro Conlon silently walk into the room and take a chair in the back to listen. It is quite humbling to see masters in their respective fields become students, if only for an hour or so, and open their hearts and minds to a fellow colleague. Following Dr. Morris, Maestro Conlon came up to the podium to speak about conducting The Two Foscari. I sat next to him barely comprehending the reality unfolding in front of me. He, like Maestro Plácido Domingo, is a monumental figure in the music world! Music directing the fourth largest opera company in the nation is no easy task and here stood next to me that very man. I could barely contain my excitement. I sat there mesmerized for the hour and a half he spoke. I, along with the hundred or so in the room, hung on his every word. He spoke zealously about the importance of arts education and opera in children’s lives and it was like a religious experience for some of us, I’m sure.

“I was once blind, but now I see,” has never meant something until now.

James Conlon at Opera for Educators meeting

He spoke from his heart and to hear so great a man share the same thoughts and feelings about a subject so near to everyone’s hearts, was a powerful experience.

To top it off, each Opera for Educators class usually includes a mini-recital usually given by one or more artists! The wonderful Christopher Allen, Assistant Conductor at LA Opera accompanied baritone Randall Gremillion from LA Opera's Chorus with excerpts from Verdi’s Rigoletto among other pieces.

Every time there is an Opera for Educators class, I come out with a renewed and reinvigorated spirit. I am reminded of why I am pursuing music, why I work at LA Opera and why we’re all here. LA Opera’s purpose is simple: to bring the highest quality productions to everyone. In this way, I believe LA Opera is unique in its continuous and active involvement with the members its large and dynamic community.

Opera for Educators

As Maria Callas once put it, “an opera begins long before the curtain goes up and ends long after it has come down. It starts in my imagination, it becomes my life, and it stays part of my life long after I've left the opera house.”

Our second Opera for Educators class on Don Giovanni is this Saturday, September 8th, and we still have space available! Register online by clicking HERE, or we will be taking walk-up registration on Saturday.

I hope to see you there!



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.


Tickets Available Now For Noah's Flood (Noye's Fludde)

Noah's Flood Key Art

LA Opera artists will collaborate with more than 300 members of the greater Los Angeles community for two performances of Benjamin Britten's Noah's Flood (Noye's Fludde) this spring at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Conducted by LA Opera Music Director James Conlon and presented as part of the Britten 100/LA celebration, the performances will take place at 7:30pm on Friday, April 19, and at 7:30pm on Saturday, April 20.

Thanks to generous longtime support from the Dan Murphy Foundation, LA Opera is able to produce Noah's Flood and offer it free of charge as a special gift to the community. Advance tickets are required for admission; there will be a $1 per order handling fee and a four-ticket limit per household. Tickets are available now and can be reserved online at www.laopera.org or by phone at 213.972.8001. But hurry, they won’t last long!

Noah's Flood is presented as part of Britten 100/LA: A Celebration, a series of events taking place to honor the 100th anniversary of the birth of British composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976). One of several Britten operas on Biblical subjects, Noah's Flood (Op. 59, 1958) is a colorful pageant where children play all the animal roles, parading two-by-two into the ark. Regarded as Britten’s most lovable work, the opera is based on one of the famous medieval Chester mystery plays, dating back to the 15th century.

Scored for a combination of both student orchestra musicians and a professional chamber ensemble, the opera features inspired and delightful musical innovations; for example, the raindrops are represented by the sound of a series of mugs of varying sizes slung on string and struck by wooden spoons.

Bass-baritone Yohan Yi will perform the role of Noah and mezzo-soprano Ronnita Nicole Miller will be Mrs. Noah. Mr. Yi and Ms. Miller are former members of LA Opera's Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program. Actor Jamieson K. Price will be heard as the Voice of God. The orchestra will include musicians from the LA Opera Orchestra performing alongside the Hamilton High School Academy of Music Orchestra and the Celebration Ringers of Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena. The performers will include teachers from LA Opera’s Opera for Educators program and students from LA Opera' annual Opera Camp, as well as the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels Choir, the Beverly Vista Middle School Choir, students from the East LA Performing Arts Academy, the Holy Family Filipino Chorale and Children’s Concert Chorus, the Mariachi Conservatory, Pueri Cantores San Gabriel Valley, the Sacred Heart School Choir and Schola Cantorum, and participants in LA Opera's Zarzuela Project.

The stage director will be Eli Villanueva. The scenic designer is Carolina Angulo and the costume designer is Paula Higgins. The lighting designer is Tantris Hernandez. The sound designer is Jon Gottlieb and the prop designer is Melissa Ficociello.

Noah's Flood is part of the LA Opera Off Grand initiative, dedicated to presenting a wide variety of artistic exploration throughout a broad geographical area.

This production made possible by a generous grant from the Dan Murphy Foundation.

Special production support also received from the Britten-Pears Foundation, the City of Los Angeles, Department of Cultural Affairs, and Mr. and Mrs. Joseph A. Saunders.


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: 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


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: 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.


Becoming an Octopus!

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

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

Claire Johnson

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

Jonah Kids

 

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


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

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

 

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


From a Penguin to an Octopus!

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

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

Octopus in Costume

 

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

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

 Jonah Sealife

Jonah and the Whale (photo by Robert Millard)


LA Opera 90012: Introducing Students to Opera

LA Opera 90012 invites students to enter a competition for the chance to win a mini subscription, for themselves and a chaperone, to see four operas for free. After completing the program, many students come back to participate as Ambassadors, helping to coordinate ticketing, hospitality and social media for all events. 

90012 Ambassadors

L-R: Muse Lee, Joshua Villareal, Desanka Ilic, Amanda Harris, Arianna Tarki

 

We asked last year's ambassadors to share stories about their experience with LA Opera 90012:

"Before I joined the LA Opera 90012 program, I saw opera as a museum display. Though it was beautiful and I yearned to touch it, we were nevertheless separated by a barrier of glass and time. Over my last three years in the program, LA Opera 90012 showed me that the whole of opera isn’t enclosed between the rise of the curtain and the final bow. It's in the eager faces of families as we distribute tickets and the excited shouting during a heated Opera Jeopardy round. It's in the thoughtful parent-child conversations during the car ride home, and the insightful online discussions, and the friendships made and the laughter and tears shared. During the 14/15 season of LA Opera 90012, we look forward to many more moments like these."
-Muse Lee, Lead Ambassador, 4th year participant.

 90012 Blog 2

Muse Lee and Madeleine Lew, 90012 participants

 

"Like chocolate lava cake a la mode, opera is dense to be sure, but immensely rich, luxurious, and rewarding. Once you scoop past the crust, a dream of warm, gooey splendor awaits. Opera never ceases to amaze me. Hundreds of years, people, rehearsals, man-hours and cups of tea all combine perfectly to create the master-pieces we see. It’s accessible as the day the ink on the manuscript dried if we approach it correctly. That is, with a bit of background knowledge, a good translation, and a love for beauty and life, anyone at any age in any time can feel what audience members of the past did. The art form is universal. Opera is the heart-break after knowing the one you love does not share your feelings. It is the giddiness of playing a prank. It’s the look in your lover’s dying eyes, the pure joy in your heart, the immense emptiness of your soul, and the very essence of your passion. I can only hope that every person in the world gets to humbly watch the human experience so masterfully illustrated as I do when I visit the opera. As such, I can’t wait to share it with amazing teens across my city this year."
- Amanda Harris, Senior Ambassador, 3rd year participant.

 90012 3

Ellie and Julie Johnson, 90012 Ambassador and chaperone

"Opera is expensive, and I am not a rich person.  If  LA Opera 90012 did not exist I would have never been able to experience the beauty that can only be seen in opera.  On Saturday, May 17th, 2014, this program allowed me to see an opera by Massenet called Thaïs.  Placido Domingo was performing, as well as many other wonderful opera singers. However, once Nino Machaidze stepped on the stage dressed in gold and light, a fiery passion was ignited in my soul. I wanted, no, I needed to be on that stage.  Since then, I have been dedicating my life to opera.  I became an Ambassador, auditioned  for Opera Camp, and found the best possible vocal teacher that would aid me on my journey.  Thaïs was my defining moment, which opera will yours be?"
 - Ellie Johnson, Ambassador, 2nd year participant. 

 

The application deadline is October 20, 2014, or until the program reaches capacity. More information can be found here.



Enjoy Yourself! A student's impression of Operalia

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


Opera Buddies 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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