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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!