The Learning Process

Hannah Celeste Lu, our soprano for Opera to Go!'s fall show, Strega Nona, describes below her process for learning a show.

I feel very blessed to have a job that allows me to combine two of my favorite things: singing and children. Being a singer with Opera to Go! is my dream job. I get to work with fun and talented musicians, and I am singing in schools three days a week. One of the joys of being an artist is making a character "come to life" and relating to the children. That usually involves making everything onstage larger than life. With the Opera to Go! schedule we can perform each show close to 80 times. Since we get to know a show so well, I am always very excited when we get to start the rehearsal process for a new production. I'm usually ready for a change. I am eager to start my third season with a new show for me, Strega Nona, by Mary Carol Warwick and Mary Ann Pendino.

"The process for learning an Opera to Go! show is always fun. When I get my score, I read through the whole libretto so I know what the show is about. I don't even look at the music at this point. I just want a feel for the story and the characters. In Strega Nona, my character is Francesca Puttanesca. I look at how she interacts with the other characters and I look for clues as to "who she is" and how I can make her interesting to my audience. This character study usually develops more as I find out what our director, Chuck Winkler, wants me to do with the character. Even after we get the show up and running, my characters tend to change as I understand them more. Our shows are mostly in English, but sometimes we get to expose the children to different languages like Spanish or in this case, Italian. The majority of this show is in English, but I notice that I have several phrases that I speak in Italian. There are a few words that I don't know, so I run to my trusty Italian dictionary. Once I've translated the unknown words, I'm ready to move on.
"After reading the score I highlight my part and mark sections that I think look tricky. Finally, I go up to my keyboard and start playing through the opera slowly. I don't sing at this point, I just look and listen. I count the beats out loud so that I don't mess up and so I can figure out where the notes go. I like playing my part because as a former pianist, I feel like the music gets into my body best that way and then I just "know" it. Having my fingers move with the notes helps me sing the correct notes. I take small sections of the opera each day and pull it apart this way, playing through it and then singing as I play. As I keep reviewing different sections I find that what I'm learning begins to stick. For Strega Nona, we were given a computer-generated recording of the music. I put that on my iPod and listen as I look through the opera and lightly sing. This is my way of checking to see if I'm getting it all right. As I get more comfortable with the notes I use the recording as my accompaniment and am able to sing out more. The real test comes when I meet with our music director, Kade Smith, for our first coaching.

"September 17th was my first day of rehearsal. I had an hour coaching with Kade Smith and our pianist Youngha Guk at 11:00. I found out that I know my music well. I felt quite comfortable with the Italian and with the music. I'm not quite sure how I want to say some of my dialogue yet, but I know that will come when we meet with Chuck about characters. At 2:00 the whole cast met for our first sing-through of the show. Kade gave us a few notes and rehearsed a few ensemble numbers and then our day was done. We met again on Friday for a full 9-4 day of just musical rehearsal. This week Chuck stages the show. It is always fun to hear it in the beginning and then see it grow as we get more comfortable and then eventually put it all together with movement, sets, and costumes. We can put staging together in about 2-3 days. We then begin running the show until we feel we are ready for our first performance. The whole rehearsal process with the Opera to Go! group together is usually no longer than two three-day weeks. It's a fast process, but we get comfortable with a show very quickly as we perform it many times. No performance is alike, but that's what I love. I love the hard work and then the fun that comes from performing for children and seeing their faces light up as they are exposed to such a uniquely beautiful and exciting art form. May they be inspired.

You can come see Strega Nona at the Miller Outdoor Theatre Sept. 29 to Oct. 3 at 11:00 AM daily.

First Voice Lessons

This week, we hear from High School Voice Studio soprano, Susannah Bayliss, about her first voice lesson in the Studio.

"I think the first voice lesson you take with any new person is rather scary. You don't know quite what to expect, or if they will even like you. First impressions always seem so critical. As I meandered through the halls of St. Peter's church for my first voice lesson with Karen Reeves, lost and trying desperately to find an open door and the choir room simultaneously, Ms. Reeves came upon me in the sanctuary. Her open and easy demeanor immediately put me at ease, and thus started my first voice lesson with the HGO High School Voice Studio. Every singer has their own issues that they must work with, and one of mine is not breathing low enough- similar to how people breathe when they sleep. Ms. Reeves had me lie down on the floor while she pressed her hands against my stomach, and I tried to visualize filling my stomach with air.

"Soon the summer ended, and after I became better acquainted with Ms. Reeves she placed me with one of the High School Voice Studio's teachers and HGO Studio alum, Alicia Gianni. Lessons with Ms. Gianni are held at HGO, so we work in a much larger room. In our first lesson she tried to make me fill the room with sound, helping me get over my insecurities about being the loudest singer in the room (which can often be the case).

"When I think of the High School Voice Studio I think mostly of responsibility. We have a responsibility to the music and to ourselves to do the best we possibly can. This opportunity is too great for us not to be responsible with it. I think this year will be rewarding to all of us involved."