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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.