Laurel Irene

What people find important in opera is so all over the map. For some it’s a connection to the past, for some it’s a symbol of a certain class status and a way they want to see themselves, for some it’s the apex of all art forms and storytelling and therefore needs to reflect the most relevant stories of our time

— Laurel Irene
 

Laurel Irene

I’ve learned that it’s not crucial to me what I make, as long as I’m making something. As long as the hose is on, it doesn’t totally matter what plant I’m watering. I would like to keep cultivating the feeling that my ability to make art is not dependent on getting paid or hired, but is a constant in my life because I make it a priority.

It will be interesting to see how art reflects on this time and when we’ll be ready to look back and grieve. Clearly art provides needed reflection and healing, but what many are probably craving right now is just some distraction and collective entertainment.

There really is nothing else happening out there except what you make happen for yourself in your own little world. You don’t need to wait to create, you don’t need permission or to be asked or to be hired, it’s not coming. That autonomy is very liberating.

 


 

Chris Emile

I've always been interested in how to make people feel, rather than 'wow' them. I think it's easy to 'wow' people in these times, and audiences are smarter than that. I'd love to slow down people's intake when they watch my work. Everything these days happens so fast, and I'd love to challenge that by making people witness something that builds and contrasts the normality of fast paced consumption.

— Chris Emile
 

Chris Emile

I hope opera as a whole, can take a deep hard look at it's practices and begin to discern if the trajectory of the artform is truly inclusive. There are countless artists of all ethnic backgrounds with rich complex stories to be told, and I think opera has the opportunity to shift the paradigm and include these stories in it's programming for more young artist's to feel included in the future of opera.

I think the pandemic has allowed me to engage more in the present, and tap in to how I'm presenting myself as a person more so than an artist. I've enjoyed having more time to connect with friends, myself, and nature. I began to question whether my artistic pursuits could be fulfilled without an audience, and sometimes the answer was yes which surprised me. I think when you start being able to monetize your artistic talents, one can lose sight of why they began practicing their art in the first place, which for me was just to express myself. There are so many ways I found I can achieve that without being 'presented' or seen.

 


 

Chris Rountree

Opera is the mega-art. It's the Mechagodzilla of art. Literally, it is, in format, in and of itself a balm and a cure for this time apart. Opera can rise to the challenges of this moment itself, as we shape it, to be: more just, less pale, less male, queerer, more intersectional, transparent and less rarified. More about art, and less about the insular, patriarchal, self-honoring history that opera has over indulged in completely throughout the artform's history. Let's not make opera, for opera itself. Let's make opera -- this nearly divine intersection of music, technology, theater, science, cuisine, simple sounds, the stage, theater, the smell of theater, the out of doors, how faces look made up, costumes, roles we make up, story we tell, ways we move our bodies -- let's make opera like our most uninhibited selves. True. Open. Thoughtful. Giving to others.

— Chris Rountree
 

Chris Rountree

I basically live on the 10 x 12 foot jute rug, that covers my living room. I've got these great French windows, the biggest blessing during this time, they let me see the world out there, and sometimes let people, I imagine, see me in here too. I've built shows on zoom above this rug, made plans for the future, raised money above the rug, drunk wine and played chess on the rug with my lover, well into the night. Numerous nights! It's my stage, this one room has been my entire life for 400 days. A little ragged, certainly overused. It's kind of itchy. I think maybe, I'm even allergic to it. But it's my stage. My living room. It's mine. And, I love it.

I'm ready for our roaring 20s. Let's be out there, outside, with each other, unabashed, running, not from thing to thing, but from ourselves in one place, to a different version of ourselves, given the context of another set of stimuli, other people, a different place, some other sense material, different art. Let's take it all! Let's make it all.

 


 

Yuki Izumihara

As a designer, I was initially attracted to opera because of the range of expression possible in the form. My interest as an artist has always been finding a language to express the emotional truth rather than explaining the plot or describing the physical location. I want to be able to express time and place in a personal point of view. Before physical stages shut down, I was always fighting with 'supposed to' -- an idea and intention defined by composers from a few hundred years ago. Quite often I had to just follow this 'supposed to' so that people would trust me as a capable designer.

— Yuki Izumihara
 

Yuki Izumihara

For me, personally, accessibility in opera has been the biggest challenge and I felt this way even before the pandemic. I still feel like so many productions are expecting me to create an opera for opera goers. We are always told to treat the score as the Bible. I am not saying that’s wrong. But I grew up with the saying "the customer is God". Meaning to say -- listen to them: the audience, the artist community, the people. What came along with me being more myself in public, the emphasis towards the music shifted from 'what was the intention of the composer' to 'how would the people want to hear and experience this?' And that when we think of 'everyday people', we’re thinking not just nationally but globally. Because I believe accessibility is connection, and connection is community.

 

 


 

Jasmine Khorsandi

When I look back on the most tragic events in human history, people might have been without basic needs, but they weren’t without art. Art, specifically music, is a basic human right that can give us hope in times of darkness and I am honored to play a role in that process.

Opera can face these new challenges if artists and organizations are willing to step into this moment of opportunity. Opera leaders need to have discussions about what is happening at the intersection of classical music and the long overdue racial reckoning that is taking place, the arts and climate change, and the arts and rising tech. Opera is the storytelling of emotion embedded stories that are still relevant today, which allows the artform to exist in a position of relevance that can be used as a basis to connect with people everywhere.

— Jasmine Khorsandi
 

Jasmine Khorsandi

My role at LBO is mostly behind the scenes organizing front of house and digital media, and now all that work is being done right next to my couch. My next 'stage' will be the parking garage at 2nd & PCH for LBO’s upcoming production of Les Enfants Terribles by Philip Glass. I’ll be working both in front of and behind the stage, making sure everything is in place for a smooth and memorable experience for our patrons.

I've stayed creative in quarantine by exploring my way around the kitchen! Being both a full time employee and full time graduate student from home this last year, I’ve had the luxury of having a full kitchen at my disposal whenever I have a break. My boyfriend, Kevin, and I have been exploring cooking with all sorts of different fruits and vegetables that we normally wouldn’t ever pick up at the grocery store. My primary creative outlet is usually my voice through singing, but this year has really driven me towards learning and creating things with my hands in the kitchen.

When we get back to ‘normal,’ I will approach art making with so much more appreciation and gratitude. I plan to be truly present in the moment with others in that space and savor the exquisite and unparalleled experience that is making music

 


 

Jenny Rivera

I have seen such creativity and inspiration come out of this difficult time, and have been so inspired by those people who have found ways to create no matter the circumstances. My commitment to creating a more equitable world in which to produce art has only increased exponentially during the past year.

— Jenny Rivera

Jenny Rivera

I am as surprised as anyone else that I ended up with pandemic chickens! Creativity comes in many forms, and in my case, tending to these amazing creatures inspires me in ways I never imagined! Chickens are fascinating - they have such distinct personalities and surprise and delight me all the time. They have an egg song that they sing after laying an egg, and as a musician, I feel compelled to try to distinguish between the sounds the different chickens make. Plus sometimes I just like to sing to them and see what they do.

Imagine this past year without the arts - from television and movies to music and visual art that we created at home. The past year has just deepened my conviction that the arts are truly essential. The art of opera has all kinds of avenues, but the business of making opera was somewhat broken anyway before the pandemic. It was past time to rethink everything we thought we knew about what opera “is” and how people think of it, and to create a new normal for opera. Creativity will push us into a new era of opera, and it’s about time.

My commitment to creating a more equitable world in which to produce art has only increased exponentially during the past year. What I thought was quite progressive before, I now realize is only scratching the surface of what is necessary. This time to reflect has made me much more aware of how far we have to go in the opera and classical music industry to completely reframe how we think of what we do in terms of equity and inclusion.

I’m so excited we’re returning to live performances at LBO in May, and that I’ll have that feeling of excitement when everyone comes together to participate in a live performance. I miss that feeling of culmination that arrives when everything comes together.

 


 

Jenny Wong

I've learned that it matters that I am a conductor who is a young Chinese immigrant woman from Hong Kong living in the U.S., and that all those influences have a place and give me a voice. When I was growing up, I excelled by “following the rules” and worshipping Western ideals. Now I am finding so much value in examining and respectfully challenging the way music is chosen, taught, presented, and the current boundaries and biases that can estrange classical music from the varied and rich human experiences of different communities.

Music gives us a unique opportunity on the one hand to process and express the layers of cultural identity and perspective — the pride and joy, the grief and trauma; and on the other hand, to listen and put ourselves in the shoes of those we have not directly empathized with. Only then can we have common ground to identify, address, dialogue and transform the systemic barriers that exist for so many communities to build a safer, welcoming future for all.

— Jenny Wong
 

Jenny Wong

While my “stage” has gotten much quieter and I haven't waved my arms as a conductor in a year, it has also freed up my imagination of what could be artistically possible moving into the future. I feel braver now to experiment and explore and less captive to how things were done in the past. While my “stage“ has gotten more two-dimensional through our screens, my “stage” also grew in some ways much bigger with the limitless platform and audience that we can reach beyond our geography and performance venues.

In quarantine, I've tried to stay creative creating virtual content and therefore paying a lot more attention to visual ideas, as well as researching repertoire and stories that more represent a wider human experience. I think you can call that creativity - a new means of breaking from how things were. Since we're doing so much less music, I find my creative energy has to go somewhere, so I've been spending time on photography, cookery, gardening, decorating and re-decorating, and honestly, just daydreaming about possibilities. My husband calls it my mind palace.

My relationship with music has changed in that it is no longer just a relationship between the two of us, but between myself, music, the world in which we reside and the future which we are building. More and more I am drawn to invest in what music can do for the future, not just for the present's enrichment. We always said “music doesn’t live in a vacuum”, but I'm only beginning to realize the implications.

 


 

Danielle Marcelle Bond

For me, opera is about connection: connection through the centuries, connection through contemporary composers, connection to our colleagues and connection to the audience. If there’s anything I think we’re all craving right now, it’s live connection.

— Danielle Marcelle Bond
 

Danielle Marcelle Bond

At the beginning [of quarantine], it was really hard for me to be creative. I’m a collaborative artist and thrive in rehearsal and performance settings. So, I had to get creative about what collaboration means to me. I created a quarterly concert series for myself to keep myself motivated and feeling like a singer. This year, I’m focusing on repertoire with the theme of community as I’ve kept busy with piano & voice lessons on zoom.

Through this pandemic, I’ve learned how much community means to me. I have been working more with my neighborhood council and became an organizer with SELAH Neighborhood Homeless Coalition to keep myself grounded. And having weekly zooms with my best friends has deepened our connections, leading to conversations we might have been too distracted to have in the past. True community requires being observant, and I’ve clearly needed (at least a month or so!) of this time to invest in these deeper connections.

 


 

Cedric Berry

Media of all types has been and will always be at the forefront of influence on our society. The diversity and inclusion movement that was reignited last summer is an opportunity for general directors and all programmers to seize the moment by instituting inclusive productions that represent the diversity of our community.

— Cedric Berry
 

Cedric Berry

Media of all types has been and will always be at the forefront of influence on our society. The diversity and inclusion movement that was reignited last summer is an opportunity for general directors and all programmers to seize the moment by instituting inclusive productions that represent the diversity of our community. I am confident that it will forever change the landscape of our industry for two reasons: inclusive programming will undoubtedly increase bottom lines and open eyes to a treasure trove of talent that will be impossible to ignore going forward. Traditional casting is stodgy and antiquated. Embracing diversity is our best chance at revitalizing the artform.

As we scrambled to find alternative ways to stay creative, I was prompted, yet again, by LBO to branch out into uncharted territory. I paired up with another local artist (Ashely Faatolia) to produce a web series about opera and domestic hobbies: Ashely’s segments focused on singing and cooking while mine focused on singing and home improvement. It was during this web series that I developed a skill-set for virtual performance. My stage became my living room, my outdoor spaces and any other space that I could capture and edit into a pleasant visual/audio experience.

 


 

Victoria Lawal

Amid the pandemic and beyond, I hope to see more companies offering accessible, digital presentations of the works we know and love, in addition to new works which amplify marginalized voices.

— Victoria Lawal
 

Victoria Lawal

The best part of being an Artist in quarantine was having the time and freedom to create and and focus on honing my craft. Prior to quarantine, my schedule was pretty jam packed. I didn’t have an excess of time to focus on personal projects. I’ve spent the majority of the quarantine adding new roles that I love into my repertoire. Through taking a moment to re-establish my “Why?”, I have reaffirmed just how passionate I am about the work I do.

*Honorable mention goes to adopting my kitten, Bijou! I don’t know what I’d do without her!

Moving forward, I will be giving myself the space (...and grace) to be more vocal about racial microaggressions, fatphobia, ableism, and prejudice against the queer commuity within our field. I hope to continue to speak up for those who are not able or do not feel safe to.

 


 

Ashley Faatoalia

If quarantine has changed my relationship with music at all, it’s been to deepen the bond. I lean on music in the tough times.

— Ashley Faatoalia
 

Ashley Faatoalia

I think opera can bring together all kinds of people...I’ve seen it happen. Now more than ever we need each other and I think opera has a unique opportunity to find new audiences looking for different content. Opera companies have recently been challenged to look at representation, inclusion, etc. on and off their stages and I fully believe if the opera world can meet the challenge it will find an entirely new, diverse and welcoming audience - one that could offer new and exciting perspectives only furthering the art form as a whole.

I think the best part of being an artist in quarantine is already being familiar with change and uncertainty and knowing how to adapt. This coupled with having a creative outlet to express yourself and share with others makes being an artist a positive at a time like this. I’ve learned a lot more about cameras, capturing video and audio than ever before. While I’ve always been engaged on social media, I’m way more active now. I’m getting familiar with editing video and learning more about graphic design. Turns out I’ve used all of these skills in the last few months to produce content for various companies.

I’ve learned that I hadn’t checked in with myself in way too long. When I say check in, I mean I hadn’t really stopped chasing my career goals to assess my current position, outlook, well-being, etc. With all the sudden time I’ve been left with, I’ve really been able take care of myself and do some self evaluation.

If quarantine has changed my relationship with music at all, it’s been to deepen the bond. I lean on music in the tough times. I would be a wreck right now without some of my favorite records!

 


 

Lindsay Patterson Abdou

The best part of being an artist in quarantine is I still get to make music at home. My 2 year old daughter Vianne loves singing and dancing and it has been so much fun making music with her. I'm grateful for the at home recording gigs I've been getting and teaching online kindergarten music to PVPUSD.

— Lindsay Patterson Abdou
 

Lindsay Patterson Abdou

[The pandemic has given me time] to go back to school online to learn some new skills. This time has really taught me that having multiple skills not only makes life more interesting, but it can also give you another source of income

I think opera has already started to overcome the challenges [presented by the pandemic]. Companies like Long Beach Opera and the Industry have already been thinking outside the box and I feel we’re ready to face the challenges of what socially distant living is. Operas do not always have to be performed on the traditional stage.

 


 

Stephen Karr

My entire life, I have never had to carry anything but sheet music (and maybe a baton!) to a gig...as a conductor and pianist, someone else takes care of my instrument in some way. But now that everything is recorded, I've had to acquire a bunch of new gear, learn how to use it, and (worst of all) lug it around. It makes me appreciate the work that the crew does before and after shows more than I already did, for sure. Aside from the recording aspect, I've just turned in a draft of my dissertation—a project I'm not sure I'd have finished without all this time at home.

— Stephen Karr
 

Stephen Karr

I had never put it together that the entirety of my career is based on being in rooms with various-sized groups of people (often fairly large), breathing together. With that being taken away, my everyday thoughts about music have turned from the practical to the theoretical: what is the potential behind these notes I see (whether I'm practicing a score with another part that's missing, or if I'm simply studying away from the keyboard). It's a valuable change of perspective, but I'm pretty sure I still prefer the hands-on of music making—the two live, distanced sessions I did for Songbook 2020 certainly confirmed that.

We are honestly seeing Opera overcome a lot of its challenges at LBO this coming season—and have in the past as well. Opera will survive by telling stories that speak to modern audiences, include a wide variety of voices, explore new ways of engaging, and continue to surprise our public. I anticipate next season will be a masterclass in "what's next", in so many ways.

 


 

Orson Van Gay II

The best part of being an artist in the midst of a pandemic is that although the medium has temporarily shifted, who we are and our purpose to fulfill that calling has not. This time has allowed me to reset and refocus. It has also allowed me to dive deeper into my purpose, who I am as an artist and how that factors into making that tangible to my audience. I look forward to sharing my art more deeply in order to uplift humanity.

— Orson Van Gay II
 

Orson Van Gay II

The conventional way in which we present our art has changed significantly. Thus the need to connect with our audience is greater than ever before. During this time, I’ve been recording from my home studio for various projects and collaborations. My living room has become my stage and the view finder a virtual concert hall. I’ve certainly connected with more people this way as its much quicker to press play and you can do it from virtually anywhere. I’ve been writing at the piano. This is something I’ve done since before I was a teenager. It’s my diary that comes to life whenever something I’m feeling needs to be said.

This pandemic has only further solidified my fervor and illustrated how essential the art we bring is to the edification of humanity. I strive to bring authenticity to the stage through my own experiences. This year and all of its highs and lows will no doubt be echoed in my art. We grow, we adapt and we persevere! Art communicates with the whole of humanity.

 


 

Zoe Aja Moore

I feel like quarantine has been a necessary time to reflect on my role as an artist in the context of our cultural shifts, without feeling the need to ‘produce’ work. The best part has been feeling the space to respond quietly and with curiosity, and to have really good conversations with other artists, to listen

— Zoe Aja Moore
 

Zoe Aja Moore

I feel like quarantine has been a necessary time to reflect on my role as an artist in the context of our cultural shifts, without feeling the need to ‘produce’ work. The best part has been feeling the space to respond quietly and with curiosity, and to have really good conversations with other artists, to listen—and lots of long walks. I also have loved the breaking down of boundaries that were probably artificial or forced anyway between home/life/family and work/creativity...but that might also be one of the most challenging parts of quarantine! I feel and hope that we are on the verge of so many huge changes, and my approach to art making will definitely be different too — but I guess I’m still sitting with the question of how and what that will look like.

Everything in quarantine has demanded creativity — new ways of doing things, being in the unknown, constantly adapting and experimenting. In that way life has been really creative.

I’ve been collecting [records] over the years, mostly records I’ve been given. Records of my parents’ that I loved growing up and that they don’t listen to anymore — like Laurie Anderson, X-Ray Spex, Bob Dylan.... A friend moved to Paris and gave her whole record collection to me. And then a few newer albums that my partner and I have given each other over the past few years. My 4-year-old also has his own record collection that we’ve gotten from the dollar bins, and there are some really amazing finds!

I’m a director and performance maker, and my work is so much about liveness & bodies together in space. In that way, I feel like the ‘stage’ completely disappeared for now. And while there are things about that that I’ve missed & mourned, I’ve also been really happy to focus on smaller and personal projects, things I can make at home or alone. Video, photography, writing… coming back to a really essential relationship between text/sound/image, which I find fulfilling.

 


 

Photography by Collin Keller
Covid safety protocols were followed in all photo sessions



National Endowement for the Arts    California Arts Council Arts Council for Long Beach City of Long Beach Art Works Opera America KUSC

This activity is supported in part by the California Arts Council, a state agency. Learn more at cac.ca.gov
Supported in part by a grant from the Arts Council for Long Beach and the City of Long Beach.
Long Beach Opera events are supported, in part, by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission