Interview by Abby Nordan
On this day three years ago, my friends and I sat in the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre for the world premiere of Gilgamesh. After months of rehearsing and workshopping and preparing, we and our choir, the Boston Children’s Chorus, were ready to share the masterpiece that we’d been so lucky to take part in with the world. My tiny, terrified little eighth-grade self had somehow been entrusted with two small solos—one at the beginning, and one at the very end of the opera—and I was scared out of my mind. But before the show started, my eyes fell upon a stranger in the audience—an older woman with a kind face who wore a very lavish pink hat. She came to all three shows. Looking at “Hat Lady,” as my friends and I called her, always made me feel less nervous.
Once more, the Boston Children’s Chorus is getting to experience the transformative and rewarding experience of participating in a White Snake Projects’ opera, and I am so excited to see their premiere of I Am A Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams! To get an inside look on what BCC’s singers are currently thinking about their big debut, I interviewed Dreamer’s two youth soloists, Amy Li (child Singa) and Isis Contreras Perez (child Rosa). Here’s what they had to say about their experiences and the opera’s resonance in our world today.
Abby: First, tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Amy: My name is Amy Li, my pronouns are she/her, and I am 15-years-old. A fun fact about myself is that I can bark like a dog. The role I play in Dreamer is Child Singa. She’s 10 years old and is a Chinese Indonesian moving to America.
Isis: Hi, I’m Isis. My pronouns are she/her/hers. One fun fact about me is that my favorite animal is the unicorn! The role I play in Dreamer is child Rosa. Ten-year-old Rosa, a native from Mexico, is forced to leave her country behind due to the unsafe environment, migrating to the United States on foot.
Abby: Both of you sing with the Boston Children’s Chorus (BCC). How has your time with the organization influenced you as a person?
Amy: BCC has been a part of my life for five years. BCC has always been a safe, loving, and open environment for me. In our rehearsals, we very often discuss sensitive matters, and these matters are also prominent topics in the songs we sing.
Isis: BCC is a part of me now. I first heard about it through my father, who knew about it from his previous choir conductor. At first, I was reluctant to join, even though I loved singing very much, I didn’t like new spaces. I have been part of BCC for three years now, and the moment I walked in, I knew it was a place I could call a second home. BCC has done everything to prepare me for this role, from conversations about modern-day issues to the history that has shaped us. The staff has been incredibly helpful in teaching us everything we needed to know vocally for our roles.
Abby: How are you feeling about the upcoming premiere? Nervous? Excited? How has the experience compared to your original expectations?
Amy: I’m not really sure what to expect. I’m a little nervous, as I always am for performances, but some of the stress is relieved because I get to share the stage with so many wonderful people. However, I’m mainly excited for this premiere, as I get to play a part in sharing the amazing message of this opera to the world. Compared to my original expectations, this experience is definitely much bigger and more professional than I had thought.
Isis: I’m feeling all sorts of feelings. I’m mainly excited but I’m definitely nervous. The expectations I had, in the beginning, were very different, I thought I just had to sing. Little did I know…
Abby: Both of your characters emigrate to the United States. How has immigration impacted your life? Your family? Your friendships? Do you relate to your characters in any way?
Amy: Immigration has not had a huge impact on my life or family, but even with that difference, I can definitely relate to Singa in a sense, as I share her unwillingness to part with something she holds dear.
Isis: As an immigrant myself, this story resonates with me very personally, Rosa and I have different stories and completely different paths that led us to America. But, in the end, we’re here for the same reason. We’re here for better opportunities, we’re here to chase the American dream. We can set our mind to anything and everything.
Abby: How has your involvement with White Snake Projects impacted you as a person? Have you found it rewarding? Thought-provoking?
Amy: Being a part of this project has unquestionably made me more aware of the opera’s subject matter, and I feel that there is such a difference between just reading about these injustices in the news and actually living in them. As I’ve gotten to understand these characters, who represent the millions of struggling immigrants worldwide, and I’ve come face to face with the problems facing some immigrants, I have definitely gained a new respect for them, and a changed perspective regarding immigration.
Isis: It has been an extremely rewarding experience, not only have I grown as a singer, but as a person. White Snake Projects has completely changed my life, and I will forever be thankful.
Abby: Is there anyone in particular who you would like to thank?
Amy: Thank you to Cerise, Jorge, Elena, Maria, [production stage manager Rachel Strum, assistant stage manager Kate Johnson, and rehearsal pianist Timothy Steele] for giving all of us this wonderful opportunity, as well as Isis, Kirsten, Helen, Carla, and BCC’s Central Intermediate Choir Advanced (CIA) for making this production what it is. Lastly, I would like to thank [former BCC Choral Director Jason] Holmes for taking so much of his time to teach and prepare us for the world of opera; Isis and I could not have done it without you.
Isis: I would like to thank Cerise and Jorge for creating such a beautiful story, a story that I hold so dear to my heart. I would also like to thank my family, for raising me in a home where I can sing my lungs out, and completely support my crazy ideas.
I hope Amy, Isis, and all the other BCC kids who are so lucky to be performing in Dreamer make their own world of unforgettable memories, as I’m sure they have already begun to do, in the long, sometimes exhausting, but always rewarding rehearsal process. I hope they all find their own “Hat Lady”—few things have given me more irreplaceable and purely happy memories than my participation with White Snake Projects, and I can’t wait to see BCC kill it in the Dreamer premiere!