Tag Archives: Behind-the-scenes

Living the Suit Life

Head Tailor Laina Babb posing with suits she's made for LA Opera productions

Head Tailor Laina Babb posing with suits she’s made for LA Opera productions

When Laina Babb learned to sew at age six, she never imagined it would lead her to the opera. She’s made her love of sewing into a career, first training and then apprenticing as a tailor. Now, as LA Opera’s Head Tailor, Babb manages a team of up to six tailors (depending on the show). Together they craft all the men’s suits used in the company’s productions. That means she’s had a hand in making pretty much every suit you can imagine – elaborate French Revolution-style suits for The Ghosts of Versailles, 1960s Italian suits for the Woody Allen directed Gianni Schicchi, and even a flashy, taffeta suit worn in Porgy and Bess.

From Learning to Sew To Working at LA Opera

Long before Babb worked at LA Opera, she was just a little girl learning to sew as part of the 4-H program in her hometown of Lockwood, California. In this program, children complete hands-on projects that will serve their communities, as part of a larger goal to empower young people and teach them leadership.

Babb took her sewing skills with her to high school, where she made costumes in the theater department. Working in costumes in high school spawned her desire to turn a love of sewing and costumes into a career in theater.

Babb enrolled at Chapman University to study technical theater. During her four years at Chapman, she took multiple costume classes, but the technical side of costuming – of building them and solving all a director’s staging challenges – kept calling.
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Tosca comes together in its final week of rehearsals

Sondra Radvanovsky as the title character in Tosca (2017); Photo: Ken Howard

Sondra Radvanovsky as the title character in Tosca (2017); Photo: Ken Howard

This week we open the final main stage production of LA Opera’s 2016/17 season – Tosca. If you’ve been following along on social media, you’ve seen a host of rehearsals in progress. As the elements come together this week, we thought we’d break it down and show you how an opera comes to life.

GETTING TO KNOW TOSCA

Several weeks ago, we started with studio rehearsals. These are musical and staging rehearsals where the principal cast and the chorus go through the music, sometimes individually, sometimes together, to get a sense of the show’s flow, the acting involved and how the director expects it to all look. These rehearsals are conducted in rehearsal halls with a piano, not on the stage and without many of the main elements of the opera (the orchestra, the lighting, the costumes etc). Each scene is mapped out on the floors with tape so that the cast can rehearse their roles in their proper positions, relevant to each other and the chorus, as well as to the sets and props on stage.

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Body Double

For the past few weeks, our props, costumes, and wig/makeup teams – the same people who created a scarily realistic head of the John the Baptist for Salome – have been working on their latest bit of opera magic. They’re not just creating a head, but an entire body to look like one of the characters in Tosca.

That character? Cesare Angelotti.

The original search and rescue dummy before the costumes, wig/makeup, and props magic.

The original search and rescue dummy before the costumes, wig/makeup, and props magic.

Angelotti (played in our production by Nicholas Brownlee) is an escaped political prisoner given sanctuary by the opera’s hero, Mario Cavaradossi (Russell Thomas). While Angelotti evades capture for most the opera, he’s ultimately cornered by Scarpia’s thugs. In our production, Angelotti’s corpse is hung by the neck. When this happens, the singer is replaced by a “stunt double,” or in other words, a mannequin that’s dressed and styled to resemble the singer.

Making the body double is a multi-tiered process that starts with sourcing the dummy.

Craftsperson Meredith Miller (left) and Costume Design Manager Jeannique Prospere (right) discuss the Cesare Angellotti body double for Tosca.

Craftsperson Meredith Miller (left) and Costume Design Manager Jeannique Prospere (right) discuss the Cesare Angelotti body double for Tosca.

Properties Coordinator Lisa Coto sources the dummy. We started with an articulated dummy used for search and rescue and CPR training. Coto chose this dummy, because it’s well-made. It’s a heavy dummy (60lbs) and the limbs dangle like a real person; in other words, it’s very lifelike.

After Coto sources the dummy, she delivers it to Costume Design Manager Jeannique Prospere. Prospere and her team make sure that the dummy’s costumes match Angelotti’s costume – an off-white, striped prison uniform, with blue/grey pants and jacket. Since Angelotti has been in prison, it’s not enough for the team to replicate the costumes. They also must distress, age, and dye the costume to make it look like the dummy has suffered the same trauma as the live character of Angelotti.

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Ben Bliss Talks Tamino

Ben Bliss as Tamino in The Magic Flute (2016); Photo: Craig T. Mathew

Ben Bliss as Tamino in The Magic Flute (2016); Photo: Craig T. Mathew

For Ben Bliss, playing Tamino in Mozart’s The Magic Flute is like coming home. Not only is he back at LA Opera (he was part of the Young Artist program from 2011-2013), but Tamino was also the first opera role Bliss ever sang.

As an undergrad at Chapman University studying film, Bliss also sang in the choir. When his voice coach threatened to lower his grade if he didn’t try out for The Magic Flute, Bliss auditioned and won the role of Tamino. It was a defining moment, because even after a few years’ stint working for Dr. Phil post-college, Bliss couldn’t quite shake the opera bug and has been singing ever since.

Ben Bliss as Tamino in The Magic Flute (2016); Photo: Craig T. Mathew

Ben Bliss as Tamino in The Magic Flute (2016); Photo: Craig T. Mathew

A celebration of true love conquering all, The Magic Flute transports us into an enchanted world where good faces the forces of darkness. It follows the story of Prince Tamino, who is tasked by the Queen of the Night to rescue her daughter, Pamina, from the supposedly evil Sarastro.

Tamino is a fun character to tackle. “The music is divine and there are so many different directions you can go with the character,” says Bliss. His favorite Tamino moment occurs in Act I, when Tamino finds himself at the gates of Sarastro’s kingdom. He sings a dialogue with an animated Speaker, who guards the gates. It’s an interesting scene, because it’s the first time in the opera that Tamino thinks the Queen of the Night might be lying to him about Pamina’s situation. Is Sarastro really the evil one? Bliss also enjoys the scene, because it’s unlike many other tenor moments in Mozart operas. It’s a conversation as opposed to a moment when everything stops, so the tenor can sing gloriously about how much he loves the soprano.

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Designing The Magic Flute: Roaring Twenties Fantasy Film

The Magic Flute is a roaring-twenties set vision. It has the beauty of a classic Louise Brooks film (like Pandora’s Box) , but live. Here, the production team – Suzanne Andrade, Barrie Kosky, and Paul Barritt – talk about the concept behind their vision for Mozart’s fantasy opera.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwbvFwvSbm4

How did you come up with the idea of staging The Magic Flute with 1927?
Barrie Kosky
(stage director; Intendent of the Komische Oper Berlin): The Magic Flute is the most frequently performed German-language opera, one of the top ten operas in the world. Everyone knows the story; everybody knows the music; everyone knows the characters. On top of that, it is an “ageless” opera, meaning that an eight-year-old can enjoy it as much as an octogenarian can. So you start out with some pressure when you undertake a staging of this opera. I think the challenge is to embrace the heterogeneous nature of this opera. Any attempt to interpret the piece in only one way is bound to fail. You almost have to celebrate the contradictions and inconsistencies of the plot and the characters, as well as the mix of fantasy, surrealism, magic and deeply touching human emotions.

The Magic Flute (2016); Photo: Craig T. Mathew

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Sneak Peek Behind-the-Scenes of The Magic Flute

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYg1zSrQIyo

Our 2014 production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute marked the first time in opera that all physical scenery was entirely replaced by video projection. A marvel of Suzanne Andrade and Barrie Kosky’s 1927 inspiration, this Flute took us back to the roaring twenties in cinematic style.

This upcoming February, The Magic Flute returns to wow more Los Angeles audiences.

The Magic Flute (2016); Photo: Craig T. Mathew

The Magic Flute (2016); Photo: Craig T. Mathew

Take a sneak peek behind-the-scenes below to see how some of the tech for the show works.

Where can you find Pamina?

Pamina, daughter stands on a tiny revolving door platform that pivots out of the wall that serves as a projection screen. She is harnessed and buckled into the wall.  Monostatos (Sarastro’s slave) stands on the first level of the stage. All other scenic elements are video projections.

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