//PICTURED ABOVE: Freshman Sienna Ellis (pictured in the middle) performs in the opera “Carmen” at the Winspear Opera House. Ellis has been involved in different voice
With a brisk motion, the heavy curtains are parted, revealing the sea of audience members gathered just beyond the edge of the stage. Surrounded by her counterparts, she remains frozen in her perch, waiting for a cue that will signal her release. She knows the drill; she has practiced this many times—more than she could ever count. Suddenly, a shrill note pierces the stagnant air. This is her signal.
Rising from her seat, freshman Sienna Ellis finds her voice joining in unison with a plethora of others on stage as the spotlight bears down on her face.
This is no ordinary production. This past fall, Ellis decided to further pursue her musical career by participating in the opera, “Carmen.” Put on by the Winspear Opera House, Ellis was one of 16 children on stage for this production, singing alongside experienced adults, some of whom were professionals.
To an outsider, participating in an such a renowned opera may seem like a daunting feat. However, Ellis welcomed the challenge. She has been involved in voice for years, so the chance to be a part of such a production was one that appealed to her.
“I have been in school choir since I was in second grade. Whenever I switched to Hockaday, I joined choir here,” Ellis said. “I’ve been taking voice lessons since seventh grade.”
From early on, singing has been an integral part of Ellis’s life. However, she was truly able to cultivate her love of the art form after joining an out-of-school choir, the Children’s Chorus of Greater Dallas, in fifth grade. According to their website, CCGD is “one of America’s largest and most prestigious youth choral programs, and serves as the official children’s chorus of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.”
Melinda Hartnett, Ellis’s mother, is aware of her daughter’s love for singing and supports her passion for this art form. She believes that CCGD in particular has allowed Ellis to grow as a singer.
“I think [Sienna] enjoyed the choir because she likes everyone singing as one group, and she likes order and structure,” Hartnett said. “I think CCGD helped her to enjoy singing because it is very professional; there are high expectations, and you have to work and pay attention.”
In fact, it was through CCGD that Ellis first learned that there were spots to be filled in “Carmen.”
“We were given notice through CCGD that the Opera was auditioning. It was open to any children, but that is how we got word about it,” Hartnett said.
After receiving word of the opportunity, Ellis, along with her younger sister Tabitha, auditioned for a role in the opera. During this process, they, along with all of the other hopeful children wishing to obtain a spot in the chorus, crossed paths with Meredith Wallace, the Children’s Director for the Opera.
“I am in charge of recruiting children, so holding auditions and choosing the children who will be in the production,” Wallace said. In addition to this, she ensures that children have the correct music to study, helps them learn the music along with the pronunciations of the words, aids in the staging rehearsals and is in charge of logistics such as arranging the schedule.
During the audition process, the children met with Wallace, where they then performed a variety of different actions to showcase their talent, such as singing “Happy Birthday” and demonstrating their acting ability.
A week after auditions had ended, Wallace had assembled a group of 16 children who had been selected to perform in “Carmen.”
Shortly after the group had been assembled, practice for the children’s chorus commenced. The first show of “Carmen” opened on Friday, Oct. 19, so the five weeks leading up to this date were consumed by rehearsals in order for the children to learn the music in time.
“We started with just music rehearsals, where it was just me, a pianist, sometimes a language coach and the children,” Wallace said. “For eight rehearsals, we sat and looked at the music, and we learned just the part about what they would be singing.”
But rehearsals did not stop there. From this point forward, the children’s chorus had rehearsals with the adult chorus and rest of the cast, rehearsals at the Winspear Opera House so that they could get a feel for
the stage, rehearsals where the orchestra was present and finally, two large dress rehearsals. The final dress rehearsal was additionally opened up to students who had purchased tickets.
Despite the amount of work and dedication that the opera demanded, Ellis nonetheless enjoyed her time performing in it. Hartnett can attribute to this.
“[The opera] was amazing. She loved everything about it,” Hartnett said. “It was very well run and completely professional.”
However, that is not to say that it didn’t come with its challenges.
“In the first two weeks when we were learning our music, rehearsals were only about an hour and a half. But when we actually started doing run-throughs, rehearsals went up to about five hours,” Ellis said.
“Carmen” had a total of six shows. Following the opening show on Oct. 19 were five other performances—Oct. 21, Oct. 24, Oct. 27, Nov. 2 and Nov. 4. Because the majority of the shows occurred on weekends, Ellis had to manage her time wisely as to stay on top of her school work.
“It wasn’t very hard [to stay on top of my work] because we had a lot of breaks,” Ellis said. “We had a big break in between our songs, so there was lots of time for me to do homework and study while I was there. It wasn’t too much stress.”
Hartnett agrees that Ellis was able to effectively manage her work load during this time.
“The blocked scheduling at Hockaday helps. For example, on the weekends, she could make sure that she would have two days of work done so that she could have two nights to get the next day’s homework done…” Hartnett said. “Otherwise, she used her time wisely. She did work at rehearsals, during downtime and just kind of stayed on top of it.”
Although this was her first opera, Ellis definitely sees the performing arts in her future.
“The experience was really rewarding. Being able to be on stage with professionals was very rewarding,” Ellis said. “I definitely want to do more operas in the future.”
Story by Charlotte Dross, Editor-in-Chief
Photo provided by Karen Almond, Dallas Opera