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Opera’s L.A. debut led by students

The largely student cast and pit of “Flight” rehearse on set. Based on the same events as the film “The Terminal,” “Flight” will be premiering at UCLA’s Freud Playhouse tonight and performances will continue through the weekend.

By Christine Grace Rendon

April 29, 2010 9:11 pm

It took a little more than a decade for Jonathan Dove’s celebrated contemporary opera “Flight,” which originally debuted in England, to make its West Coast premiere at UCLA’s Freud Playhouse, where a slew of both undergraduate and graduate students will be starring in California’s debut production.

The three acts of “Flight,” based on events that inspired the film “The Terminal,” follow passengers, stewards and a refugee who, by chance of an electrical storm, become stuck at an airport amidst the unfolding drama surrounding their personal lives.

What’s different about this particular production, aside from the fact that it is debuting to a Los Angeles audience on campus, is the heavy emphasis on student involvement evident throughout the opera. Despite the fact that faculty have a say in the overall production, the majority of the construction is student-driven.

“Everything is student-cast, and the crew for the show are students. The people who actually help with the make-up for the show are students. The people who help iron the costumes and get them ready are students, and the people who sew the costumes are students,” said Peter Kazaras, director of UCLA Opera.

The students involved in the production are comprised of a mixture of both graduate and undergraduate students, all of whom are heavily involved in either the orchestra or cast. Two undergraduates are cast as singers, yet the majority of the production remains graduate students as the opera demands more mature voices.

Despite the heavy responsibility handed to students, faculty are involved in order to guarantee the smooth progress of what is otherwise a complicated and intricate opera. Additionally, their involvement in the opera ensures the funding granted to them is used properly for the production.

Another unusual aspect of this particular university opera is that a graduate student will be conducting a show of “Flight.” Henry Shin, a second-year graduate student, will be conducting Sunday ““ an uncommon occurrence for such a large-scale production.

“It’s a lot of pressure,” Shin said. “I never thought I had a chance to actually conduct a performance ““ that’s pretty rare that that happens. I felt quite honored.”

Christopher Lade, a graduate student in music, serves as one of the opera coaches for the singers in “Flight.” As both a student and opera coach, Lade’s role as an opera coach requires him to assist the singers in understanding the rhythm and notes of what is an otherwise difficult piece.

“We’re all students, meaning there is no faculty there, and this is a really, really hard opera. What’s cool about it is that even without any faculty there to oversee and make sure everything is all right, we’ve been able to figure it out,” Lade said.

Graduate student James Darrah is directing the production. Darrah was the recipient of the Princess Grace Award in 2009, a prestigious national award granted to developing talents in theater, dance and film. “Flight” is the culmination of his work and will be Darrah’s graduate thesis.

“The main obstacle is the opera is complicated ““ the music is incredibly beautiful but difficult,” Darrah said.

The level of difficulty of the music in “Flight” makes the opera a complicated project, and considering this, Kazaras expressed his confidence in Darrah’s ability to successfully direct the production.

“This is not a piece that I would want to entrust to a student totally unless it was someone who was really great and had proved themselves, which is what James has done,” Kazaras said.

In addition to the high student involvement, Lade said he hopes the modern setting of “Flight” will encourage the less opera-inclined to check out the musical production.

“I hope the audience finds a wider appreciation for opera through this. I feel that people who either don’t go to opera a lot or aren’t in opera circles have a very stereotyped aspect of opera,” Lade said. “(They think opera is) loud, boring, super long and just a bunch of fat women singing really high notes when there’s so much more to it.”

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Christine Grace Rendon
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