I was looking at the ceiling and then I saw the sky

I was looking at the ceiling and then I saw the sky by John Adams and June Jordan
CSUSB Opera Theatre, PA Recital Hall
Stacey Fraser, Director
Alastair Edmonstone, Music Director

The award-winning CSUSB Opera Theatre, now in its 15th season, will present “I was looking at the ceiling and then I saw the sky,” by John Adams with text by June Jordan, on Thursday, May 5, and Friday, May 6, at 7:30 p.m. in the Performing Arts Recital Hall. To purchase tickets, visit the CSUSB music department website.

The work is set in Los Angeles circa 1994 during the Northridge earthquake and follows the lives of eight characters who become intertwined on their journey toward love and self-discovery. When the catastrophic earthquake occurs, they are forced to confront unavoidable truths and their lives become irrevocably changed.

Rich in the sound and rhythms of American urban life, Jordan’s libretto makes a rippling counterpoint of several love stories against a background of misunderstanding, violence, idealism and ingenuity. The characters, all in their 20s, are a cross-section of young Americans, including David, a handsome young Baptist minister; Consuelo, a single mother of two and an “illegal alien;” and the young LAPD cop, Mike, who is caught between the desire to help the people on his beat and the need to look tough to his coworkers. The signal event of the drama, the onset of the devastating Northridge earthquake, serves as a shock to all the characters and forces them to rethink their lives.

The world premiere of “I was looking at the ceiling and then I saw the sky” took place on May 3, 1995, at the Zellerbach Playhouse at the University of California, Berkeley, almost 27 years to the day of the CSUSB production. The original conductor was Los Angeles’ favorite and recent Grammy-winning Grant Gershon of the famed Los Angeles Master Chorale, and the original stage director was Peter Sellars.

The original production began with just 15 songs and eventually grew to 22. CSUSB Opera Theatre will present 17 of the songs, all of the varying musical styles, from funk, classical and gospel to full-on musical theatre. The music, although tuneful, is very difficult to play and to sing as in true John Adams fashion, the same composer who wrote “Nixon in China” and “Doctor Atomic.”

The cast not only has to sing and move, but must relentlessly count beats in order to stay in time for the entire duration of the show. There are choreographed fights, dances, vibrant costumes and projection, all set against the cultural hub, grit and beauty of downtown LA.

The band features some of LA’s top new music players, complete with clarinet, saxophone, three keyboards, electric guitar, electric bass and drumkit.

The CSUSB Opera Theatre production is directed by Stacey Fraser, music department chair and professor, with music direction by keyboard collaborative artist Alastair Edmonstone, costume design by Kate Cummins and lighting/projection design by Cash Tijerina, with choreography by Terrill Corletto, lecturer of kinesiology, and fight direction by Terry Donovan Smith, theatre arts department chair.

The show features Christian Quevedo as David, Gabriella Goar as Leila, Kimberly Benavides as Consuelo, Reyes Ortega-Gonzalez as Dewain, Michael Garcia as Mike the Cop, John Gazaway as The Rookie, Trisha Owens as Tiffany and Ricardo Martinez as Rick.