The Long Beach singer stars in the West Coast premiere of ‘Birds in the Moon’ outdoors in Santa Monica – San Gabriel Valley Tribune

The 17th-century English educator Charles Morton

According to, Morton stated in his Compendium physicae that in cold weather the birds did not hide in their nests, in other parts of trees or on the bottom of water. He argued that they must be on the moon because the astronomer Galileo had found mountains and seas there and Francis Godwin’s book “The Man in the Moone” imagined a traveler who encountered a breed of birds on the lunar surface.

This is the premise for the new chamber opera “Birds in the Moon” with music by Mark Gray and the libretto by Júlia Canosa i Serra. It only shows two cast members: Maria Elena Altany of Long Beach as the mother bird and Austin Spangler as the ringmaster.

The 70-minute opera, presented by The Broad Stage, will have its West Coast premiere with four performances from September 1-4 at 7pm in Santa Monica’s outdoor lot 27 at 452 Arizona Ave.

“A chamber opera is very unusual for me,” said Altany. “Only me, the mezzo-soprano and the actor, do all kinds of acrobats. I sing in a nice costume and he does all the hard work. “

Altany began her professional career in 2014 at Long Beach Opera and has also performed with LA Opera, the LA Philharmonic and the New York Philharmonic.

Birds in the Moon plays on a magical box – actually a convertible, state-of-the-art shipping container – that opens to create a stage with an LED screen, lights and a sound system that Altany says is state-of-the-art. art.

“This is really an avant-garde piece with an amazing set,” she said. “If you live in Los Angeles and are a musician, you meet a lot of sound types and I told them to hear this sound system. It picks up the smallest of noises. “

Altany received her Masters in Singing from Cal State Northridge, while her husband Steve O’Conner received his Masters in Music from Cal State Long Beach and later taught there. Both now teach music lessons from home in the Wrigley neighborhood of Long Beach. She has been a guest vocal coach and choir advisor for the Walnut Valley Unified School District since 2014.

The San Francisco native said she received a call from Gray and Canosi i Serra in May 2020. She has no idea where they got their name from and she has almost no idea what she said to them during the Zoom meeting.

“My husband and I have just started teaching on Zoom, balancing the teaching, and taking care of the baby,” she said. “I remember saying that I invested in my character and that I must love and believe in them very much to be successful.”

Altany said that when the words to the music were read to her, they hit her.

“It’s about motherhood and migration,” she said. “It hit me so hard. Migration is not just current, it is timeless. What struck me was that it might be an archetype of the Virgin Mary, but that character is not. This character is a very real, earthly being. She only cares about her child’s safety. She pushes her own feelings aside in order to achieve what she wants for her child. “

Gray, the composer, said in a press release that before the pandemic, he and lyricist Canosa i Serra wanted a vehicle that touched a social and political issue.

“The Syrian refugee crisis was in the news,” he said, “so we thought of both migration and human trafficking, what is happening on our southern border, and families trying to send their children to a better place. It’s a poignant subject and we wanted to bring a subtlety to the message.

“First the ringmaster sells trips to the moon, which is fake,” he continued. “The mother bird wants to teach her child to fly to the moon for a new life. She sacrifices her own feathers for her child, but doesn’t know if it’s real because she has never been there. “

Altany said what she loved about the opera was that the mother bird was deeply caught in her feelings and had moments of artistic joy.

“She just sings and remembers that she enjoys singing,” she said. “I can improvise a bit with the musicians and we play and it’s so happy and expressive because the costumes have long, colorful features. It’s just very beautiful. “

Altany said she would like to see the opera stop in Long Beach, a city so supportive of the arts.

“When we first met 10 years ago, my husband lived in Long Beach and every time I came I could feel the mood of entertainment being so strong. I think the Long Beach people would love this opera. “

COVID logs are established in accordance with Santa Monica security measures. Tickets and information are available at

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