Word is spreading among Los Angeles teens that opera is not what they think it is. The productions are not dusty and dull, but instead are gloriously alive – full of passionate drama that’s sure to entertain even the most skeptical audience member. When LA Opera 90012 kicked off the new season with an orientation this past October, the room was buzzing with anticipation.
Don’t know about LA 90012? It’s one of the coolest contests in town. Students in grades 7 – 12 are invited to enter a competition for the chance to win a mini subscription, for themselves and a chaperone, to see four operas, absolutely free. It’s a great program made possible by a donation by Fred Rheinstein, who knew how opera is a great way for teens and parents to connect. While Rheinstein passed away two years ago, we are so grateful for his contribution and his legacy lives on.
As a Student Ambassador, I arrived early to help set up for the orientation. Once everything was ready, we split up to do our different jobs. Along with my fellow Ambassador Marita Bos, I stood outside at the backstage entrance to welcome participants.
The orientation began at 6:30pm. After initial introductions, Lead Ambassadors Katie Lee and Elyse Johnson explained the 90012 program and the role of the Ambassadors in helping run it. They introduced all of us to “opera etiquette,” such as what to wear and the importance of arriving on time.
This was followed by a presentation from Carmen Recker, who described the art form of opera, calling it “a vehicle for storytelling.” What’s more, teens can relate to many common opera plots, which often involve falling in love or losing love. Carmen also explained that opera singers are athletes; they master techniques to project their voices all the way to the last row of the opera house with using a microphone. She even demonstrated this process. Lighting a candle, she brought it a few inches away from her mouth and began to sing in a smooth, rich tone that filled the room. But as she sang, the flame of the candle never went out. We couldn’t guess how this was possible, so Carmen explained that, as she sang, she converted all of her breath to sound. She never exhaled, so there was no carbon dioxide to smother the candle’s flame! This requires intense athleticism, and produces a much larger sound than what is generated in pop music. Check out a video below of Angela Meade, who plays Norma in our current production talking about her voice work in the show.
I can’t wait for the season to begin. I already know that my mom and I will be laughing a lot during The Magic Flute and crying by the end of Madame Butterfly. We’re all going to have a great year in LA Opera 90012!
Elizabeth Surman has participated in LA Opera 90012 for three years. This is her first year as an Ambassador. When she isn’t studying or teaching people about opera, she enjoys reading, writing, singing, and playing piano.