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"Opera" about the 1994 Northridge earthquake debuts in SoCal

"I Looked Up At The Ceiling and Then I Saw The Sky," debuts this Saturday and is performed by the Long Beach Opera. It tells the stories of seven people in Los Angeles during the 1994 Northridge quake. Stars include (L-R) Zeffin Quinn Hollis as Mike, Andrew Nguyen as Rick and Zipporah Peddle as Tiffany.
Ketih Ian Polakoff

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Twenty years ago, hours before sunrise one January morning, Southern California was rocked awake by a magnitude-6.7 quake that we'd later dub the Northridge earthquake.

Those of us who lived through it were left terrified amid the sounds of shaking and crashing, but this Saturday a new sound to Southern California commemorates that event.

The Long Beach Opera will perform "I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky" at the Ford Ampitheatre.


It's a sort of-opera, kind of-musical about the quake, written by composer John Adams in 1995. However it's never been performed in the place it's set until now.

"We are not really experiencing an opera like we think about," says the Long Beach Opera's artistic director, Andreas Mitisek.

"You have rap songs, you have gospel songs," he says. "It's like L.A., you know? It's a melting pot of styles."

The staging tells the story of seven people whose lives are intertwined because of the earthquake, ranging from the minister of a black church, to a closeted white cop, to an undocumented immigrant mother from El Salvador.

"It has a bit of a troubled history maybe, because initially when opera critics went to it they may be expected an opera and that's not what they got," Mitisek says.

However, he says the work contains a lot of social and political themes that are still relevant today, such as racial discrimination.

"Each of these characters start a new journey after that quake," he says.