Alice Asquith, written for Ojai Valley News

photo by Kevin King

photo by Kevin King

This weekend, Ojai Youth Opera Company (OYO) presents the world premiere of Nightingale and the Tower at Libbey Bowl. OYO commissioned the work for a cast of 28 young singers (ages 7-18) and seven opera professionals. The story addresses the increasing lure and distraction of technology, so powerful that children and adolescents are losing their connection to the natural world. Noteworthy is that it’s told from the point of view of the young singers.

I asked two of the performers, both alumni of OYO’s Summer Intensive Opera Workshop, about their experience. Katherine Perry (age 12) sings the part of Destra, Rafael Sierra (13) is Henry and the understudy for the lead role of Teo. In the cautionary tale where two worlds collide, Destra and Teo are on opposite sides of a philosophical divide.

“Although this opera’s music is harder than anything we’ve done,” says Katie, “I enjoy the challenge. It tests my abilities and makes me listen more carefully for cues.” A music lover since she was a toddler, Katie joined OYO’s 2016 workshop that tackled a baroque opera sung in Italian. Now in 6th grade, she looks forward to beginning formal voice training. “I find that singing is a very personal experience, and I believe in the healing powers of music,” she told me.

Rafael joined OYO in 2014 when he was eight. Now starting out in Middle School, he appreciates more than ever what almost 6 years of vocal and dramatic training have taught him. “Singing makes me feel joyful and encourages me to express my feelings. Memorizing music helps my brain,” he observed. The opera’s message resonates with Rafael in a personal way. “I lost a friend to suicide due to bullying on social media,” he confided. “I don’t have a cell phone. I tell my friends to put theirs away and talk to each other instead. We all have to learn to be in the moment.”

Clearly, the rigorous rehearsal process strengthened the bond between the 28 young singers, many of whom have collaborated over the years. They feel empowered by being the protagonists of a story that has sparked many conversations as it concerns them personally.

Performances are on the 18th & 19th at 8:00 PM. Tickets are available at www.ojaiyouthopera.org.