L.A. Opera Lands a Prize Catch


If you’re planning to audition for the Los Angeles Opera, you’d better be a tenor or a baritone--because they’ve already got enough basses.

In this case, however, it’s not bass, the lowest male voice, but bass as in Big Mouth Billy Bass, the popular singing fish from Gemmy Industries that flaps its tail, turns its head and belts out “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and “Take Me to the River” at the push of a button.

Kirk Graves, properties coordinator for the L.A. Opera, cheerfully accepted a donation of 3,000 fish--mostly Big Mouth Billys, but also musical sharks, lobsters and catfish--to be used as props for its upcoming productions.


On Wednesday, any and all comers to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion’s loading dock were urged to take home an unusual Valentine’s Day gift, all the singing fish they could carry, as Graves and two production assistants unloaded the first of two 24-foot truckloads of them.

Graves, always looking for ways to cut the opera’s budget, first encountered a Big Mouth Billy Bass while out shopping--and immediately decided the fish would be perfect to make its operatic debut in October’s production of Benjamin Britten’s seafaring opera, “Peter Grimes.” A realistic-looking prop fish, Graves points out, costs between $15 and $20.

Graves called the opera’s development department, responsible for coordinating corporate donations, to check into getting a gift of fish. The development department got in touch with Sunstar Industries in Torrance, a distributor of Gemmy products.

Sunstar connected the opera company with its own resident opera lover, marketing director Scott Chang--who had been an L.A. Opera subscriber for five years. Chang was more than happy to spearhead the donation of 3,000 to 8,000 fish that were deemed defective and slated for the trash heap.

“I feel like it was just perfect--we have a lot of defective fish, and it’s great that somebody can use them,” Chang said.

Though the deal could not be struck in time for “Peter Grimes,” Graves says the opera company now has enough fish to last for the next 10 years.


“Any time you have an opera with a large crowd or street scene, you have to have the vendors selling something,” he said. “Fish are very common, and these look really good.”

Leftover fish, he said, will be donated to other theaters and opera companies, including San Diego’s Old Globe and the UCLA theater department.

And there are plenty, because Graves estimates L.A. Opera will probably need 300 fish in the next decade.

“Opera is, in every way, bigger than life,” he said.