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It’s Sunday, the day of the kids’ opera we’ve been following, and in the upper mezzanine of Copley Symphony Hall, close to 200 kids fidget and wait for their rehearsal to start.
In three hours, these San Diego Children’s Choir members will be performing the Benjamin Britten opera “Noye’s Fludde,” a 15th Century tale of Noah’s ark that the renowned composer put to music in the 1950s. They have been working at this for months, decorating the masks that will turn them into animals, memorizing song lyrics and learning some simple choreography.
It’s a tense moment. The group has never practiced in the hall before, and this one run-through will be all they have to figure out their choreographed movements and musical dynamics in the new environment. But before anyone can begin, the group of buzzing kids must quiet down.
Their roles are only one part of this production. Below them on stage sits the orchestra, which already started its rehearsal. It consists of community members of all ages, some volunteer, some paid a small fee, playing instruments from trumpets to bells. One instrument is a collection of nine coffee mugs slung between wooden posts with twine.
In a cast lounge on the second floor, the soloists are preparing. Lorant Najbauer and Jackie Hayes, playing Noah and Mrs. Noah, say they’re not nervous, even though they just met for their first rehearsal together earlier in the week. Their chemistry must be believable — most of the first half of the play consists of Noye and his three sons convincing Mrs. Noye to enter the ark. She is hesitant to leave her group of women friends whom she gossips and drinks with.
Rehearsal starts. With the opening bars from the orchestra, the mezzanine children begin to sing. From the main floor they are invisible, creating an angelic chorus seemingly coming from the heavens.
When the song is over they must hurry to the main floor. The animals will enter the hall in different groups down one of three passageways, parading through the seats and to the ark on stage. During the performance, parents will search eagerly through the rainbow-colored swarm to find their child.
The rest of the actors don’t appear fazed by the new setting. The only problem at rehearsal so far is the placement of a tree onstage. The kids have trouble seeing the orchestra director, Michael Morgan. It is easily moved a few feet back, however, and line of sight becomes clear.
The company’s small budget for the production also means that instead of individual microphones, the entire cast must sing into two freestanding microphones placed at the front of the stage. It’s hard to hear the youngest soloists, so overall director Margie Orem tells Najbauer to guide them closer to the stands if they’re too quiet.
Only a few performers are in costume during the run-through. After two actors make their entrance wearing full Mesopotamian garb, James Nydam, playing one of Noah’s sons, enters in a tuxedo — the uniform he has to wear for a pre-opera concert in the lobby before changing into his costume. “You’re in the wrong play,” director Krishan Oberoi says with a chuckle. “This isn’t cabaret.”
Most of the kids have only performed in their issued choir outfits. Now, they are singing in costumes parent volunteers have been working on for months. And whether it’s an animal mask or a colorful cloak, the costumes help the kids embody their characters.
Some of the most striking costumes belong to the raven and the dove, whom Noye sends to find signs of land after a flood sent from God drowns everything except the ark. These characters, played by Karianna Klasse and Melos Ambaye, dance in feathered ballerina costumes to the sound of raindrops.
The flood is supposed to be a fearsome storm destroying all living things. To create its appearance, three long pieces of translucent indigo flowing fabric are swung up and down. The cloth is so large 12 people must help make it move as it rocks from the ground to above Najbauer’s head.
After the rehearsal, Orem emerges with a lot of praise for the choristers; her only major concern is the animals exiting the ark quickly enough. She thanks the parent volunteers, who’ve been making sure everyone’s in the right place.
Now, it’s time for the performance. The separate pieces that have been developing for weeks — the young choristers, the acting soloists and the orchestra — come together triumphantly.
The opera calls for the audience to sing along to three songs, but the majority doesn’t match the kids’ intensity. The few who do actually sing, reading words from their programs, are not loud enough to make an impact.
Still, the performance ends with a standing ovation — the kind you’d expect from an audience made up predominantly of the kids’ proud parents — as bows are taken on stage and the animals line the aisles. One mom is lucky enough to have a seat next to her two daughters, dressed as mice. She can’t help but to run over, scoop them up and kiss them.
Read more about this month’s Embedded here.
Allie Daugherty reports on arts for voiceofsandiego.org. You can contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.550.5665.
Sam Hodgson is a freelance photojournalist and contributor to VOSD. You can contact him at email@example.com.
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