THE HIDDEN VALLEY Opera Ensemble is back with a revival of David Conte’s operatic setting of O. Henry’s popular Gift of the Magi, the charming tale of a penurious young husband and wife determined to find a way to give each other a loving Christmas gift. How they find the means comes with a surprising twist. Since the last time Hidden Valley staged it, productions of La bohème and Don Giovanni have trod the boards of the converted barn—once known as the White Oaks Theatre—on the Hidden Valley campus in Carmel Valley.
For this revival, Monterey native Laura Elizabeth Anderson has been engaged as stage director. She has more than the requisite preparation for the challenge, not least having stage-managed HV’s 2010 production of the opera under director Robert Darling.
Anderson attended public schools in Monterey and finished high school at the private York School. As a teen she became a horsewoman, competing locally and regionally and even imagined pursuing a career in that field. Then she enrolled at UC Santa Cruz, “thinking I would be a language major, French or Spanish, but I joined the choir. All of a sudden I was a music major.” She studied voice there with Brian Staufenbiel and with Michael McGushin. “At the end of my undergrad studies, I went out into the world, and got cast by strangers who didn’t know me,” she says. “I gave it a fair run. But being a professional singer is a hard life. Ultimately, the cost/benefit analysis did not work for me. So I decided I wanted to pursue directing and teaching.”
She finished her undergraduate degree in 2003 and went on to take her master’s in 2006. For her PhD—in opera studies—she attended the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. While there, she stage-managed the live performance portion of an Emmy-nominated Twin Cities Public Television documentary Parables, about the opera of that name by Robert Aldridge and Herschel Garfein.
Returning to California she became immersed in the SF Bay Area music scene, applying her operatic training to all areas of operatic production. In addition to her work as stage manager with Nicole Paiement’s Opera Parallèle in San Francisco, her recent projects included productions with Rork Music, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and TEDx Berkeley. “I wanted to move my career to freelance,” she told me.
Today, she lives in Santa Cruz which simplifies commuting between her job as cantor and assistant music director at Carmel Mission and her stage work with Opera Parallèle.
According to the German Fach system of fitting voice types to specific opera roles, Anderson describes her soprano/mezzo soprano tessitura as well-suited for pants roles—going in drag as young male characters, like Cherubino, Hansel and Octavian. This is reinforced by being tall, (six feet), vocally medium/large in lyric terms and with a darker tone color, “not honeyed like a Puccini spinto, which is extremely full both horizontally and vertically.” (She sang a generous program of opera arias with tenor Erasmo Aiello and the Monterey String Quartet in March 2013. To see it on YouTube click HERE.) But it’s her other musical talents, including stagecraft and directing that are now getting most of her attention.
Anderson and Hidden Valley have enjoyed a long relationship. She worked as an assistant to founder/director Peter Meckel and has sung there as well. As stage director for Magi, Anderson has engaged actor/singers for the four roles, three recent Hidden Valley veterans—Sara Duchovnay, Ryan Bradford and Nora Graham Smith—plus newcomer Anders Froelich, from Oakland, whose work in the SF Bay Area Anderson already knew.
Going forward, Anderson will stage manage Terrence Blanchard’s Champion, An Opera in Jazz, with Opera Parallèle, next February. Then, next May, she will be a producer of the world premiere in Seattle of Out of Darkness, by opera composer Jake Heggie. “Jake put together the libretto of three small monodramas, about various people caught up in the Holocaust, including both Nazis and Jews.”
“I enjoy directing,” she adds. “I have worked with a number of dance companies, but my field remains mostly musical.”