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In rehearsal halls across San Diego County, hundreds of children have begun warbling one of the oldest epics around: The story of Noah, the ark he built and the animals he saved.

Next Sunday, June 3, more than 250 kids from the San Diego Children’s Choir will flood into Symphony Hall, where they’ll perform the massive opera.

The grade-schoolers through high-schoolers have been learning to sing melodies and harmonies at afterschool practices in different places around the county, on different days, in small groups. They’ve been coloring and pouring glitter on the masks that will disguise them as the animals that marched two by two. They’ve been imagining how to navigate around a giant ark that will occupy the stage.

They have, not unlike Noah, been preparing for a colossal event.

Now, it’s days away. And we’re going to count down with them.

We’ve been embedded with the kids and their choir directors for several weeks. Over the next week, we’ll be taking you inside to see what goes into making it happen. A production like this takes months of planning. Contrast this fledgling effort to the biggest game in town, San Diego Opera, which employs hundreds of people to mount a production. The kids’ work culminates on June 3. They’ll do just one run-through inside Symphony Hall, then swing open the doors at 3 p.m. for hundreds of their parents and neighbors.

It started with a charge to be more inclusive.

The choir’s CEO, Donna Icenhower, heard a city presentation last year exhorting arts groups to find ways to “cast a wider net” — to draw people from more communities and economic backgrounds than usually go to their shows. She thought it might be just the thing to get new audiences’ feet wet because it dips into the realms of theater and musicals, not simply choir music. She decided the Children’s Choir would take it on.

It’s far different from the choir’s normal. Usually the end of the year concert is just that, a concert. Kids get up, kids sing the songs they’ve been practicing, kids sit down. No animal masks, no fabric ocean, no ark.

“This has been a major undertaking,” Icenhower said.

Opera fans will recognize the composer, the renowned Benjamin Britten, from some modern favorites like “Peter Grimes.”

In the 1950s, Britten put music to a centuries-old mystery play called “Noye’s Fludde.”

The plays were performed in the 1400s in England on mounted stages that could travel through city streets. In the play, Noah and his sons load up the ark while Mrs. Noah gossips with the neighbors. She keeps carrying on even when Noah tells her to come inside, to the point that her sons have to force her aboard the ark. A giant storm comes, the people and animals aboard the ark are saved, and eventually God sends a rainbow to signify that humanity has suffered enough for its sins and such a flood will never come again.

The piece calls for children to play the animals. And Britten got creative with the small orchestra parts, including a part for four hands on the same piano and a line of “slung mugs” — coffee or teacups hanging on string that a player strikes to make notes. That’s how the sound of the first raindrops are created.

There are a couple of semi-professional adult singers who join in, too. We’ll be watching them, the kids and the conductors trying to hold it all together as we bring you inside operation: opera over the next several days.

San Diego Children’s Choir presents “Noye’s Fludde” by Benjamin Britten at Copley Symphony Hall downtown on June 3 at 3 p.m. Ticket information here or by calling 619.235.0804.

I am the arts editor for VOSD. You can reach me directly at kelly.bennett@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0531. Or you can keep up with me on Twitter @kellyrbennett or on Facebook.

Kelly Bennett

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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