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Nights at the Opera

October 27, 2000|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

One of the San Fernando Valley's hidden musical treasures is opera at Cal State Northridge. For the next two weekends, people will get a chance to see and hear what makes fully staged opera tick, courtesy of the music and theater departments. They put on two productions a year, and this season's is the lovable staple of classical opera, Mozart's "The Magic Flute."

"This is the moment when it's all coming together in dress rehearsals," said opera conductor David Aks. "The sets are up and there's the moment when we have the 'Queen of the Night' rising up on a cherry picker. We just have to make sure the cherry picker is working."

"Magic Flute" offers much creative latitude for a director because the fantasy can be set anywhere. The production combines antique elements and more futuristic, "Blade Runner"-like qualities.

The opera program at CSUN was started 30 years ago by David Scott, and Aks took over a few years ago. Aks has been working on the current production with stage director David Sannerud, who recently joined the voice faculty. "Because we've established a tradition of working with the theater department, we have resources that other schools wouldn't," Aks said. "Others would like to put on an opera but don't have the access to the things that a theater department offers in terms of set-building, costumes, makeup and other things you need."

Although the L.A. Opera has been gaining a lot of attention recently with Placido Domingo in his first year as artistic director, CSUN's focus is more regional. "I think a lot of people in the Valley tend not to go down to the Los Angeles Opera, so we offer them a chance to see fully staged opera right here," Aks said. "We get sold-out houses, and people are enthusiastic about it. This may be the only chance some of them get to experience opera in a given year."

Aks has been expanding the choices of operas to stage, including a production last spring of Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods." For next spring's production, they will take on Aaron Copland's "The Tender Land," a moving and rarely heard work the composer wrote for student productions.

"We have no down time," Aks said. "Two weeks after the close of 'Magic Flute,' we'll start auditions for 'Tender Land.' "

The show must go on and on. It's a good sign for Valley opera lovers.

BE THERE

"The Magic Flute," today and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 5 p.m., Nov. 3-4 at 8 p.m., and Nov. 5 at 5 p.m. Cal State Northridge, Campus Theater, speech and drama building, 18111 Nordhoff St. Tickets: $15 general, $10 seniors/students. (818) 677-2488.

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