Out of the mouths of babes
Patch.com La Jolla
Some folks are excited to see the San Diego Opera’s production of Puccini’s “Turandot” because of the local debut of American soprano Lise Lindstrom, who wowed audiences at the Met, and has performed the title role at 11 other companies around the world.
Some are dying to see the eye-popping sets designed by acclaimed British artist David Hockney.
And some, including one La Jolla family, are eager to hear the Children’s Chorus. That would be the family of 8 year-old Claire Timmons Nelson, who snagged a position in three of the four productions in the 46th season of the San Diego Opera.
A mature, self-possessed but unprepossessing young lady, Claire is making her opera debut in “Turandot,” the China-set fairy tale of a haughty ice-queen who can only be married to the man who solves three challenging riddles. Many would-be suitors have failed and been beheaded for their efforts. But Prince Caláf, driven by love, is determined to win Turandot’s heart, even at the risk of his life and the safety of those close to him. Although there is a death along the way, love ultimately conquers all.
The high-profile cast and design team haven’t been daunting to Claire, a third grader at La Jolla Elementary. Even her audition was audacious; she chose to sing a surprisingly non-operatic song, “Second-Hand Rose,” the comical Grant Clarke/James F. Hanley novelty number famously recorded by Barbra Streisand in 1965.
“I was very nervous and shaking,” Claire admits. But her performance must have wowed the casting directors, who selected her from among more than 100 other young hopefuls, to be part of the 34-member Children’s Chorus for “Turandot” (1/29-2/6), the 6-child chorus for “Der Rosenkavalier” (4/3-12) and the 20-voice youth chorus in “Carmen” (5/14-22).
The first opera Claire ever saw was “Carmen,” last year in New York at the Met. And now she’ll be in it. Perhaps she was destined to do this; there’s definitely a family pedigree. In her youth, Claire’s mother was in the chorus at San Diego Opera, as was her aunt, who now serves on the Opera board. And in some great confluence of history and coincidence, Claire’s Uncle Charley, a physician like her mother, father and grandfather, sang in SDO’s children’s chorus of “Turandot” 30 years ago, when he was 10.
A veteran of her church choir at St. Paul’s (that’s how she found out about the Opera auditions), Claire has taken the rigorous, two-month rehearsal schedule in stride, squeezing it between her commitments to piano, soccer and tennis. She seems to be having no problem singing in Italian; for the other operas, she’ll perform in German and French.
“I sort of like it,” Claire says. “I know a little Spanish, and a few words in Chinese. So it isn’t that hard for me.”
The only tricky part of the “Turandot” production is, “I’m a boy – and I’m bald!” (she wears a bald cap).
The Children’s Chorus sings in all three acts, but only 20 of the 34 are onstage, and only during the first act.
Watch for Claire. She’s “the third bald kid in line, holding a lantern.”
The San Diego Opera’s 46th season opens with Puccini’s “Turandot,” which runs January 29-February 6 at the Civic Theatre, 1100 3rd Ave., downtown.
Performances are Saturday 1/29 at 7pm, Tuesday 2/1 at 7pm, Friday 2/4 at 8pm and Sunday 2/6 at 2pm.
Tickets ($35-225) are available at 619-533-7000 or www.sdopera.com