Organized Fun: The Opera League Works to Play and Plays to Work
By Susan Heard
How It All Started: Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (But She Sure Stops by a Lot!)
“We were relentless in our efforts to support the visiting opera companies that came to Los Angeles in the early 1980s, but it was a really exciting time and a rewarding one. We had so much to show for our efforts, and you can still see that when the old timers find each other at the opera. It WAS fun – it just wasn’t organized fun.”
Have you met Alice Coulombe? Listening to the co-founder and first president of the Opera League talk about the League’s origins is fascinating. The Opera League birth was not unlike many Internet startups today. You had a small collection of passionate people who made it up as they went along.
They must have done something right. It wasn’t long before the Music Center Opera Association asked Alice and her friend Lorraine Saunders to form a support group to establish a permanent opera company in the City of Angeles. Along with their friend Carol Henry, they gave birth to your friendly neighborhood Opera League. “We spent a lot of time together and probably had a holiday party,” but Alice doesn’t remember much “play” in those early days.
“A happy company gives better performances.” When Alice was told that by the touring manager of the Royal Opera Company, she really took it to heart. Indeed, she used that credo to frame everything the League did. Potlucks, cast dinners, field trips to the beach and the mountains (“The Brits were simply obsessed with our sunshine!”), and otherwise lending pairs of hands where they were needed. And boy, were they needed. LA Opera’s first general director, Peter Hemmings, had only two full-time staff. A startup indeed! It was, in fact, Mr. Hemmings who recognized the invaluable role the Opera League could and would play.
And we’re still playing! Alice and her husband Joe (Mr. Trader Joe) continue to encourage League members to have fun by hosting events for AALAO, the Community Educators, and other League events at their home. And the League offers many FUN opportunities to get involved. Let us show you a few of the ways.
Cast Dinners: A Diva’s Gotta Eat ~ Julie Holland
Cast dinners are hands-down one of the Opera League’s most popular and play-ful events. Why, you ask? One word: food!
Each cast dinner sees heaping upon heaping of fresh homemade goodness infused with passion for all to enjoy during the rehearsal breaks. The League volunteers, the cast, the crew, Maestros Domingo and Conlon…culinary pleasure doesn’t discriminate.
League Board Member and Cast Dinner Chair Julie Holland says, “There is nothing quite like the energy in a room filled with hungry opera cast and crew members enjoying a delicious meal and letting their hair down during a break from a rigorous rehearsal.” Maestros Domingo and Conlon often mention that other opera companies in the United States do not offer this benefit, and the artists know it.
Check out our interview in this issue with the League’s Clairette Brand. Behold the high she gets watching the Maestros scarf her veggies. That says it all.
Artist Services: World-renowned L.A. Freeway Driving ~ Nina Haro
You’re new to Los Angeles. More than that, you’re new to the United States. Now imagine having to deal with LAX, let alone finding your way to your hotel. And then the Music Center. Got a headache yet?
Exactly. That’s where the League’s Artist Services volunteers step in. Chair Nina Haro says, “We constantly hear from LA Opera how much the artists appreciate the extra care and attention given to them by members of the Opera League. So much emphasis is put on this that we actually believe the flattery is sincere, so I think this is one of the most important volunteer activities of the League. We have a lot of committee members, but not all are active, so we welcome new and enthusiastic volunteers.”
Stepping into the ample shoes of her predecessor Bob Bernard, Nina has done pickups and deliveries for 10 years, with only three mishaps of missed connections due to miscommunications. “Those little glitches were quite insignificant when compared to the pleasure of getting to know some fabulous and friendly artists…I look for photos and bios of each artist to include in the request for airport pickup to help the League volunteers know what to expect, and perhaps to help start conversation.”
Shop at the Opera: Put Some Style in Your Culture ~ Mimi Rotter
As an Opera League Board member, Mimi Rotter was asked to volunteer to work at the Shop at the Opera at least once a season. She said she’d be happy to, and those became her famous last words. “Little did I know that that one time would entice me to become the coordinator of the shop. Our volunteers come from the full spectrum of our membership, and everyone seems to enjoy the experience. I’m sure it isn't only the 25% discount they can get on their personal purchases, or the credit they accumulate for their hours worked,” Mimi said.
The League’s biggest fundraiser, Shop at the Opera, supports LA Opera’s Education and Community Engagement. Speaking of which…
Education and Community Engagement: Reaching Tomorrow’s Opera Audiences Today ~ Larry Verdugo
“When I retired in 2009, I looked for interests to occupy my time–and perhaps a little more than that. Volunteering with LAO was an important element in my retirement plan. Since 2010, I have been active on the Opera League Board, in the Opera Speakers Bureau and in LAO's Education Department,” Larry said.
Larry also reminds us that many League volunteers belong to the Community Educators, where they speak about opera at local libraries, community gatherings, and senior centers. “My experience with these seniors reminds me of the limitations felt by many who cannot drive from the more distant areas. A lady in Glendora told me she doesn’t get an opportunity to hear about opera except through the League’s talks."
And that is but an appetizer of the fun our volunteers have. The Opera League has come a long way from our startup days. While the fun is more organized, it’s no less fun for all that.
Would you like to volunteer? Call us and leave a message on the 24-hour league message line (213.972.7220). And in the meantime, bookmark our website and Facebook page (facebook.com/operaleague) to keep up with our latest and greatest.