In its 18th season, Cantabella Children's Chorus has grown to 180 to 200 kids in two locations, one in Livermore and the other in Pleasanton. Founded by Bee Chow, current director, the program follows the academic year, with winter and spring concerts performed by children in kindergarten through high school.
During the summer, the group often travels to various festivals. Last year, they attended the Golden Gate International Chorus Festival and won first place in the historical category and second in the folk song division. Another time, the group went to Colorado for the Sing a Mile High children's choral festival.
Chow said in the summer of 2005, they decided to produce an opera, "Hansel and Gretel." The program was popular, but time consuming, so they're back at it with "The Piper of Hamlin."
"Our chorus has participated in operas on and off with the Livermore Valley Opera company," Chow said. "They would ask me to prepare a group for a child's role. The operas are very adult, they're not really for kids. We've always wanted to do something that's more kid friendly."
"The Piper of Hamlin" fit the bill, and will be coming to the Amador Theater in July. Cantabella is holding an open audition for the summer opera from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. Sunday in Livermore. Chow, who will oversee the auditions with a stage director, will be looking for about 50 children in grades 4 to 12 who are able to sing and act. While the scheduling is filling up, they will be able to take some walk-ins. Call Cantabella for more information, including an application form, at 292-2663. There is a $20 audition fee, which is put towards the tuition if they are placed in the production.
Rehearsals will be held in Livermore, from 9:30 to 2:30 p.m. weekdays from July 6 to 23, with dress rehearsals on July 22 and 23. July 6-July 23, M-F, 9:30 am-2:30 pm. Dress rehearsals will be on July 22 and 23. Three performances at the Amador Theater are scheduled for July 24 and 25.
When it comes to teaching the children, Chow said she sets high expectations.
"You have to set the bar high, that's my philosophy," she said. "I don't want to go below, I want to set the bar up. They usually live up to my expectation."
The production will be a community effort, but that's not to say it won't be near professional grade. Chow will produce and conduct the opera and her staff includes stage director and choreographer Bethanie Baeyen, who has a degree in theater arts and more than 10 years of stage production in the Bay Area. Tom Harland is the set designer, who will bring his expertise as a retired Ohlone College professor of art and founder of the Sunol Repertory Theater. Costume designer Margene Rivara is an experienced children's clothing and costume designer as well as the president of the Pleasanton Cultural Arts Council.
Howard Tsztoo, president of Cantabella's board of directors, is proud of the program and all it is able to accomplish.
"It's like a diamond in the rough," he said. "People don't really know about Cantabella, but we operate at such a high caliber, people should take advantage of that."
Of the more important aspects of the program, in addition to learning to sing well, Tsztoo said, are the values instilled in the children.
"It teaches kids great values, such as discipline and the value of being a team member in a choir," he said.
According to Tsztoo, who has been involved in the program for about six to seven years, the board has a desire to help the community. They will have a performance at the Pleasanton Cultural Arts Council fundraiser for the Firehouse Arts Center at 4 p.m. March 28. They are also planning to raise money for Tri-Valley schools with one of their opera performances this summer.
"We're very concerned about what will happen to the (school) arts and music programs without some level of support," he said.
In addition the PCAC performance in March and the three opera shows in July, Cantabella will have their annual spring concert May 22, all of which will be at the Amador Theater, located at 1155 Santa Rita Road.
There is currently a waiting list to join the choir program, with placements expected to be announced in June. A semester's tuition ranges from $195 to $350, plus a $40 to $55 fee. Some scholarships are available.
To learn more about Cantabella, call 292-2663 or visit www.cantabella.org.