Rachael Powles is an incoming junior at Sauquoit Valley High School, where she is co-editor of her school newspaper as well as an active member of the drama club. This is her first production with The Glimmerglass Festival.
When I auditioned for Puccini’s La boheme, I had a preconceived notion of opera that included high notes that shattered glass and stuffy, disapproving adults that wouldn’t give the time of day to twelve adolescents in a youth chorus. Thankfully, I was wrong.
The first staging rehearsal was held in a former elementary school that doubled as the Springfield Community Center, just a few miles from the Glimmerglass campus. My heart was in my throat as I and the other members of the youth chorus made our way into the rehearsal space, the old gymnasium. Instantly, my jaw dropped. I felt like I’d stepped through the looking glass. Pieces of the exquisite set were already in place. Countless staff members bustled around like ants. Director, assistant director, choreographer, several stagehands, designers, accompanists…I couldn’t keep track of these irreplaceable pieces of the puzzle.
Soon after we arrived, the rest of the cast filed in. Fifty strong, most were members of the Young Artists Program (YAP), Glimmerglass’ training program for emerging artists pursuing a career in opera. To my surprise, they weren’t much older than I and hailed from numerous states.
Before we started blocking, the Maestro suggested we sing through the act together. I could no longer distinguish my excitement from my nerves as we lined up in front of the adults.
“Always start in silence,” Maestro instructed.
You could have heard a pin drop in the old gymnasium.
The accompanist played a short introduction and the room was filled with the most angelic sound.
The cast sang with one voice, one body, one mind. I felt a wall of sound hitting me from behind. It surged through me, soaring through the air and beyond. It’s no wonder that the Festival’s motto is “Where the world stops to listen.” No matter what you were doing, you would pause to experience this music.
I looked to my friends with tears in my eyes. We all wore the same, awestruck expression: pale faces, gaping mouths, rigid postures, wide eyes. Internally, we asked the same question. . .what are we doing here?
By the end of the night, that question had faded from memory. The adults and students immediately welcomed us into the Glimmerglass family. They were not simply patient, they explained the inner workings of the opera and offered us advice. We laughed together over onstage mishaps and discussed our shared passion for the arts. We sipped hot tea side by side during breaks and fantasized about opening night. If this was the first rehearsal, my friends and I wondered, what would the performance be like?
Opera is fabulous, colorful and larger-than-life. The people are witty, driven and incredibly kind. Despite temporary props (an American flag in place of the French flag or a plastic sausage standing in for trumpet, for example), no costumes and an incomplete set, everyone could see the beauty of this production even in its infancy. When we finally staggered out of the old school at 10 p.m, my heart was pounding again, this time with euphoria. As we drove home through the darkness, the mystical melodies still echoing in my mind, I knew that this was going to be the most magical summer of my life.