Opera singer Daniel Okulitch gets on the mat to prepare to fly in the LA Opera.
Bringing a cult classic to life, on stage, in the air and in song, can be a daunting, even intimidating task, but certainly rewarding.
When Canadian opera singer Daniel Okulitch was asked if he was excited about performing the title role in the premiere of the opera The Fly, he asked, “Are you kidding me? How many science-fiction operas are there?” and “How much fun can one person have and get paid for it?” While thrilling, it’s also hard work. This is due in part to the demands of the role which include hanging from wires, crawling upside down, and going from baring all to full-body fly costuming — all while singing — along with the demands of working with a high-wattage collection of creative genius.
The uniqueness of this particular operatic remake, which premiered this past July in Paris at the Théâtre du Châtelet, and takes to the stage at the LA opera in September, is evident in the creative team who came together for its production. Director David Cronenberg (whose 1986 film version of The Fly provided the basis for this live musical production) joined forces with Plácido Domingo who serves as conductor. The opera is scored by the Oscar award-winning composer of Lord of the Rings, Howard Shore and the libretto is written by Tony award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang.
As the character Seth Brundle, Okulitch plays someone who goes through a complete transformation: from geeky scientist researching a molecular transporter machine to hypersexualized superhuman fly hybrid. While more grotesque than the transformations most of us experience, the idea of literally — or figuratively turning ourselves inside-out — is reminiscent of what happens to us in our yoga practice. Drawing on this experience, and to prepare himself for the demanding role, Okulitch relies on the synergistic physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of his yoga practice to prepare for a process of ongoing transformation, both on stage and in everyday life. As he describes, “It’s easy to go through the day and not observe one’s own consciousness and patterns of thought. I find that the act of doing yoga prepares me to meditate. I’m forced to slow down, observe my body and mind. By working on my body, it gets easier; I feel more in tune with my emotions.”
Okulitch’s practice includes the long holds and surrender of Yin Yoga. While the word surrender makes the practice seem easy, Okulitch comments on the mental battle intrinsic to such a practice, “When you’re holding frog for five to ten minutes, and all the body can do is scream at you, you have to calm your mind and focus on battling your own instincts.” Along with mental discipline, Okulitch has found physical transformation, working through inflexibility in his hamstrings and hips to give him more facility as an operatic stage fly. In addition to his ongoing yoga practice, Okulitch includes a yoga nidra and meditation before performing onstage.
A self-described yoga neophyte, after noticing the difference in body and mind, Okulitch plans to stick with his practice long after he folds up his fly suit.
Practice for Performance
Okulitch’s Vancouver, British Columbia-based teacher Shivani Mercer understands the demands of performance first-hand after
years of performing as a musician and touring around the world with rock and roll bands. She cites two practices that Okulitch found helpful in preparing for his role in The Fly.
Brahmari (bee humming pranayama): As Mercer states, “Not only does brahmari reduce blood pressure, it tones the vocal chords and helps to relieve insomnia.” When Okulitch traveled to Paris to premiere the role, the combination of time changes and stress affected his sleeping habits; brahmari practice provided a positive solution.
Yoga nidra (deep yogic relaxation): Mercer describes yoga nidra as an opportunity to “explore and let go of samskaras (deeply held patterns) while in a state of relaxation or psychic sleep. Thirty minutes of yoga nidra is equivalent to three hours of solid sleep. It kept his energy going and his mind clear for the work he was doing.”
The Fly debuts at the LA Opera on September 7 — September 27. Visit: laopera.com
For more information about Daniel Okulitch, visit: danielokulitch.com.
For more information about Shivani Mercer, visit: puraluna.com. Yoga instructor Shivani Mercer is involved in the Karma Yoga effort Project 1080, launching an October auction of an art piece that includes 1080 photos of the beauty of Mother Earth to support feeding 2000 children a day through Sivananda Math, a program of the Bihar School of Yoga’s Rikhia Peeth ashram. Eighteen people will be traveling to India in December for the project. Visit: puraluna.com/a_outreachprojects.html.
By Felicia M. Tomasko, RN
Felicia Tomasko has spent more of her life practicing Yoga and Ayurveda than not. She first became introduced to the teachings through the writings of the Transcendentalists, through meditation, and using asana to cross-train for her practice of cross-country running. Between beginning her commitment to Yoga and Ayurveda and today, she earned degrees in environmental biology and anthropology and nursing, and certifications in the practice and teaching of yoga, yoga therapy, and Ayurveda while working in fields including cognitive neuroscience and plant biochemistry. Her commitment to writing is at least as long as her commitment to yoga. Working on everything related to the written word from newspapers to magazines to websites to books, Felicia has been writing and editing professionally since college. In order to feel like a teenager again, Felicia has pulled out her running shoes for regular interval sessions throughout Southern California. Since the very first issue of LA YOGA, Felicia has been part of the team and the growth and development of the Bliss Network.