For more than 20 years, members of the prestigious Los Angeles Children’s Chorus (LACC) have starred in productions at LA Opera. From playing precocious characters in the world premiere of Tobias Picker’s Fantastic Mr. Fox (1998) to singing alongside the pros in Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd, LACC children have shared their enthusiasm and vocal gifts with artists, staff and audiences. The latest collaboration between LA Opera and LACC is Puccini’s La Bohème.
In this opera, 14 singers make up the children’s chorus. Some of these children have been in other productions and others are new to the world of opera. What they all share is an excitement about singing and opera that is infectious and wonderful to see.
Today, the kids are gathered in the lobby, chatting excitedly, because they will soon be on stage rehearsing with the pros. When asked what their favorite parts of rehearsals and being in the opera are, several hands shoot up. “I love hearing the power of their voices and knowing that all these people are watching us,” says Soren Ryssdal (12). His fellow choir members nod their heads in agreement. Of staging, Sydney Brakeley (10) says, “I like being able to know where I am going just by hearing the music.” With a big grin on her face, Anika Erickson (13) age adds, “We also have fake siblings.” All the kids laugh.
Throughout the conversation, LACC Artistic Director Anne Tomlinson watches proudly. Tomlinson has helmed the choir for 20 years and her leadership has evolved the chorus into a world-class organization. When she started working at LACC in 1996, there were three choirs, serving 180 children, and now there are six choirs, serving 400 children between the ages of six and 18. Tomlinson also added an emphasis on music literacy, “we hope that each child will open a piece of music and read it as easily as they would read a book,” says Tomlinson. She created a seven-tiered development and sequentially based program to help children learn how to sight sing.
But wait, there’s more. When the kids are asked to sing something after being interviewed, it’s clear that Tomlinson has helped nurture the choir’s signature bel canto sound. They immediately ask to do a three-part harmony, which Tomlinson conducts. It is a healthy and colorful sound – something LACC feels is very important.
“We emphasize connection through the breathing mechanism and freedom in vocal production to make sure the voice stays healthy. In their earliest years, we focus the children in the upper part of their voice, or their head voices. We focus on freeing that part of the instrument, and then we expand their range and color palette throughout their years here. We do this in a way that is always healthful, which will allow them to take on more genres when they’re older and their voices are more ready,” says Tomlinson.
Tomlinson goes on to talk about LACC’s collaboration with LA Opera and how it provides the children another way to express themselves: “In our self-produced concerts, the children learn to stand fairly still and present in a traditional choral concert way, but at the opera, they can use their full bodies to express story.” Tomlinson also loves that the partnership is helping the children realize what they can accomplish, even at such young ages. “If they can stand and deliver at age ten on the stage at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, they will hopefully be able to stand and deliver in different situations throughout life.”
As the children scurry off, they are clearly excited to see what new lessons and staging this rehearsal will bring. Tomlinson is not far behind them, happily watching her students realize how truly powerful they are as young performers, and also as young people.
For more information and to purchase tickets to La Bohème, click here.