Author Topic: Things to look for in opera  (Read 3625 times)

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Bwoodbury

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Things to look for in opera
« on: Apr 08, 2009, 01:11 am »
I am wardrobe head for two operas at my school starting this week. Xerxes and Eugene Onegin are being done in rep. It's a paid position with grad student singers and professional SMs. My priority is obviously to my duties as wardrobe head, but I think there will be a lot of downtime and I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts on what I could pay special attention to. I have zero experience in opera, so I think this is an awesome way for me get a feel for the atmosphere and some of the caveats and differences between opera and theatre. What can I learn from? Thanks!

ScooterSM

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Re: Things to look for in opera
« Reply #1 on: Apr 08, 2009, 11:29 am »
Although not exactly a SM thing, one thing to watch out for in Xerxes is that there are several women who play men (roles originally written for castrati) and a woman who dresses up as a man for a disguise.  I just closed a production of this show and keeping all of the calls, fittings, etc straight were particularly difficult because of the conflicting pronouns.  We couldn't say "All women" or "All men" because it wasn't clear who we were actually talking about.
A more SM related issue is that score is set up in ABA or da capo style, meaning that the singer sings the A section, then the B section, and then repeats the A section from either the top (da capo) or a marked place in the score (del segno).  This means either having to flip back the score a few pages for the second A section (or A prime) or photocopying those pages so you only have one set of cues/blocking on each section.

I hope it goes well!
I've never been paid a lot, but the theatre has kept me, and for that I shall be eternally grateful. Tony Church

Maribeth

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Re: Things to look for in opera
« Reply #2 on: Apr 08, 2009, 12:33 pm »
There are some good threads on here about SMing opera:

http://smnetwork.org/forum/index.php/topic,1249.0.html

http://smnetwork.org/forum/index.php/topic,2158.0.html

http://smnetwork.org/forum/index.php/topic,550.0.html

But in terms of what you can observe, I would think that having the SM call from backstage would be a big thing. All of the entrances are cued by stage management- and the stage manager pages the singers to places 5 minutes before each entrance.

ljh007

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Re: Things to look for in opera
« Reply #3 on: Apr 08, 2009, 08:08 pm »
If you're working wardrobe, you will get to know the artists (=singers) in a much more... profound... way. You'll observe them vocalizing in their dressing rooms, going through superstitious pre-show routines (in my experience, way weirder than some things actors used to do), and concocting bizarre herbal throat coating teas at the coffee station backstage. You'll learn who are the divas - insisting that the designer is purposely trying to make them look terrible, and the lovelies - ready to go with the flow and laser-focused on their vocal performance.

Definitely stay aware of the backstage rhythm. The SM calls 5-minute places calls, which is rarely done in other disciplines. Since opera tends to have scene changes and heavy backstage activity only at act changes, the stagehands have this brilliant intuitive awareness of when we're coming up on 10-minutes-to-intermission, etc. (And I say intuitive because 80% of the crew I've worked with truly never learn or remember the music, even after weeks of running. It's all that backstage sense of timing.)

Sometimes wardrobe pages follow the singers around with slippers, a dressing robe, and/or a glass of water. But I doubt this will happen in college opera. It is usually reserved for the uber-divas at upper level houses.

The biggest thing about opera - and the thing that fascinates me night after night - is the push and pull of the stage action versus the music. Ideally they merge seamlessly, one element enhancing the other. In reality, the director and conductor - or more likely the singer and conductor - debate over music versus action. Can they sing properly lying in that weird position? Can they see the conductor? (If not, should the conductor just - gasp! - follow the singer through her coloratura?) Does the diva really always have to be DSC for the aria? No seriously - really? You might even overhear some debates in rehearsal where the tenor wants to transpose higher, and the conductor resists (maybe because the tenor doesn't really have the note); the soprano wants to hold her high note forever, and the conductor wants to push on with the music; the director wants the duet to be sung as the artists struggle against each other viciously, but the singers want to stand and stare at the conductor. Listen to these character-revealing debates. And then hold your breath to see what really happens in performance (will he push higher? will he crack? will she hold the note? will the conductor drown her out out of spite? will the duet begin with through-the-motions struggling and end as a park-and-bark?).

Oh what fun!

For a more entertaining take on the bloodsport that is opera, check out the smart and sassy blogger OperaChic at http://operachic.typepad.com/.

 

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