Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Super Captain Chronicles - The Five Senses of Opening Night

The Super Captain Chronicles continues with Jesi Betancourt's look at "The Five Senses of Opening Night."

Opening night is a very special night for every production, but especially for the premiere of a new opera. After weeks of long rehearsals it is finally time to raise the curtain on our production of Moby-Dick. In the front of the theater patrons gather expectantly, looking elegant in their evening clothes, sipping cocktails. Yet what happens on stage is just a small part of opening night. What happens backstage before the first note is played is a feast for the senses.

One of my most favorite times of opening night is a few hours before the curtain rises. The backstage is empty, but with the promise it will soon be teeming with life. For now it is relatively quiet. A few principal singers gather around the rehearsal piano and work with the Maestro on specific musical pieces. Their voices mingle and echo throughout the empty hallways of the backstage. They are joined by the faint sound of a French horn playing practice scales somewhere in the bowels of the theater basement. The opera is full of quirky superstitions and customs. Before a performance you never wish someone “good luck.” That is considered bad luck. Instead you tell them to “have a good show”, “break a leg”, or you symbolically “spit” on them for good luck by saying “toi, toi, toi” (sounds like “toy, toy, toy”). No one is sure where the superstition came from, but everyone likes to hear “toi, toi, toi” before going on stage.

Flowers are always abundant during the first performance. It is a traditional gift in the theater. Floral arrangements of every description fill the dressing rooms and hallway tables. Home grown bouquets of garden fresh roses, exotic arrangements from the florist, together with bunches of spring flowers are given as tribute to the principal singers and supers alike. Their delicate fragrances mixing with each other to create a heavenly scent. Below in the basement the wig and makeup crew set out the tools of their trade; hairspray, foundation, eye liner. Stage makeup has its own perfume. The scent of body paint that create the fierce tattoos on the chest, arms and face of Queequeg combine with the pine wood sent of spirit gum that affixes facial hair to masculine faces adds to the opening night aroma.

One of the many traditions of the theater includes the tradition of giving gifts and notes to each other on opening night for luck. After spending several intense weeks rehearsing together performers form deep bonds, not unlike a tight knit family. The gifts are usually small tokens that have significance for the cast. The notes are short, heartfelt expressions of congratulations and best wishes. Those gifts and notes are held on to and cherished long after the curtain has fallen on the last show.

As you walk around the backstage you can see that opening night is truly about to start. Costumes are hung neatly in the dressing rooms; shoes and hats, waiting to be worn. The backstage is a maze of hallways and dressing rooms, which begins to fill with bustling singers and supers getting ready. The pace picks up as time for curtain draws closer. Playbills are put on every table and are avidly read by all. After weeks of rehearsal a program is evidence that the show is truly about to begin. In the wings of the stage props are laid out and neatly labeled, ready for their turn to appear on opening night. Whale “blubber” is neatly stacked to one side, a hammer, coils of rope, and a gold doubloon; wait patiently in their proper places for when they are needed.

Food is an important part of any celebration. Opening night embraces that tradition whole heartedly. There is always a vast selection of homemade cookies, cupcakes, macaroons, tarts and even authentic baklava which is baked with love and readily shared. Charming whale shaped cookies fill large platters and hungry mouths. Bottles of champagne are given for toasting after the show. What show would be complete without pounds and pounds of chocolate candies, which flows throughout the backstage and devoured by cast and crew alike?

The excitement backstage, which has been building, reaches its peak as the orchestra tunes to the A. Hush settles over the backstage wings as the ringing cel phone announcement is heard. The lights dim and the stage manager wishes everyone a good show and calls “Places, please.” It is time. Standing in the dark of the backstage the first sweet strains of the overture can be heard. Our Pequod has set sail on its grand adventure… opening night.

A Conversation with Morgan Smith

This week's podcast feature baritone Morgan Smith who sings Starbuck in MOBY-DICK

OperaSpotlight: MOBY-DICK

Thar she blows! Our behind-the-scenes look at Moby-Dick. Hats off to our friends at UCSD-TV who made an excellent program for us.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Whale Watch #5 - Peg legs and tattoos

Our Whale Watch segments come to a close with this look at Ahab's peg leg and Queequeg's tattoos.

MOBY-DICK by Eric Shanower

Another opening night, another visit by acclaimed artist Eric Shanower. This time Eric sketched the crew of The Pequod as they hunted for the elusive white whale Moby-Dick.

As always, we are amazed at his talent and the speed at which he works. We're also struck by how art continues other art - Melville's book inspiring an opera which in turn inspired these drawings. MAybe we'll have another post about that very soon.

Check them out below and give Eric's website a visit.

All artwork is copyright Eric Shanower, 2012. Moby-Dick opens tomorrow.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Video Podcast: A Conversation with Heldentenor Ben Heppner

We've waited a long, long time for this; but we finally have the great Canadian heldentenor Ben Heppner in our cast of Moby-Dick, singing the role of Captain Ahab. In this interview with Nicolas Reveles, the Geisel Director of Education and Outreach for San Diego Opera, the tenor talks about the creation of the role, its similarity to other roles he sings and the challenges of wearing a peg leg! Enjoy!

Whale Watch #4 - The Fight

We know how it happens, and we're still impressed over how real it looks. A look at the on deck fight aboard the Pequod and the people who make it happen.

Whale Watch #3 - The Chorus

A typical whaling ship had 30-35 men on it. Our chorus for Moby-Dick has 40. Historically inaccurate, but musically awesome.

Our series continues with a look at the chorus...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Whale Watch #2 - The Orchestra

A behind-the-scenes look at the orchestra of Moby-Dick.

Whale Watch #1 - Wire Work

A behind-the-scenes look at some of the wire work in Moby-Dick

The Super Captain Chronicles - First Times

The Super Captain Chronicles continue with super Super Captain Jessie Betancourt taking a look at the first rehearsal of Moby-Dick on the stage:

There is a first time for everything and opera is no different. After several weeks of working in the rehearsal hall it is time for the cast of Moby-Dick to start working on the actual stage. The first rehearsal on stage can be nerve wracking and exciting. It means that opening night is drawing closer, but it also means less time to practice. From this point on, every second in rehearsal counts. Once an opera moves to the stage a lot of things change.

The first rehearsal in costume is always a very fun night. Like snakes, supers shed their everyday clothing to don those of the opera world. Sometimes the costume alters a person so much that even their own mother wouldn’t recognize them. For every singer and super, a costume really helps to bring their character to life. Costume elements are added to the onstage mix. Hats, jackets, shoes can change how a performer moves in a scene. In this production of Moby-Dick many of the performers are wearing safety harnesses under their costumes. Imagine the pandemonium of dozens of men in the gloom of the backstage trying to get their pants over their harnesses for the first time. Getting comfortable in new gear is time consuming, but necessary to make sure the opera flows smoothly. By final dress rehearsal wigs and make up are added and the transformation is complete.

The actual set of the Pequod is much larger than the rehearsal space. Thus, the timing for much of the staging has to be adjusted. That means a lot of tweaking. During a run of the show there will be a flurry of action which comes to a sudden halt as a musical moment is tweaked and a quick solution is found for any glitches. On stage rehearsals tend to be longer. There is a certain amount of the hurry-up-and-wait, but it becomes very apparent that things are coming together quickly. Supers and singers alike patiently work through their scenes, making adjustments, getting everything fine tuned. There is a growing intense energy from everyone as the opera really begins to take shape.

The days before opening night are not just about performers. The stage crew is also getting used to the new set. This professional band of carpenters, flymen, props handlers take their job of moving set pieces very seriously. Rehearsals are a time for them to organize their movements as they fly pieces of scenery (as well as intrepid singers) and arrange set elements. They move as a team; each set change is scripted, so it flows quickly and efficiently. To see this group of men and women work is like watching a very intricate ballet.

Another vital element added during the last week of rehearsals – the orchestra. Up until now the singers have been accompanied by the rehearsal piano. The first time the orchestra joins rehearsals many pieces fall into their final place. Maestro deftly guides the orchestra through the musical landscape of Moby-Dick, stopping only occasionally to go over a few notes. It is hard not to stop and become entranced with the lush sounds of the orchestra and the beautiful voices combining for the first time, but there is no time and still more work to be done.

What all these “firsts” add up to is a very exciting opera. What was once a collection of scenes and moments have been woven together into an epic tale. It won’t be long now before the orchestra starts to tune their instruments and the curtain goes up on opening night of Moby-Dick.

Interested in trying out to be a Super for our 2013 season? Call the Super Hotline, 619-533-7073.

Monday, February 13, 2012

MOBY-DICK Stars in the Salon

Heading to see MOBY-DICK but couldn't make last Thursday's Stars in the Salon event? Not to worry, we have it right here, courtesy of UCSD-TV.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Video Podcast: Jonathan Lemalu

We know, two video podcasts in a week. But this one is so enjoyable we figured why wait? In this episode Dr. Nic sits down with bass-baritone Jonathan Lemalu who sings Queequeg in Moby-Dick. They talk of his exciting career and this pivotal role in Jake Heggie's newest opera. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Now for Something Completely Different

Dr. Nic has prepared some fun and informative study guides for high school students coming to see our operas. Here is his look at Moby-Dick. Even we learned something here.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Super Captain Chronicles Continue...

The Aria Serious Crew is incredibly honored to welcome back Super Captain Jesi Betancourt with another installment of the Super Captain Chronicles. In this episode she takes a look at the incredible fight scenes in Moby-Dick.

Choreographing the Dance of Violence

Another evening of rehearsal for the upcoming production of Moby-Dick. This night is slightly different– the large set is filled with just climbers, acrobats and supers; no chorus or principal singers. Tonight is not about music, it is about violence.

The wiry fight director stands amidst a tight knot of fifteen men. They are part of the ragtag crew of the Pequod. The mood is very light – joking banter is punctuated by hardy masculine laughter. But now it is time to get serious. After a moment the fight director barks out “SET?” and all fifteen men go to their places and reply “SET!” Then the order - “GO!”

A full-fledged brawl breaks out on stage. Men grapple each other with deadly intent, balled-up fists fly, bodies slam into the deck, feet connect with ribcages, necks snap like tooth picks. “HOLD!” commands the stunt director and all the action instantly stops. Each man is perfectly still in their fight position, like vicious statues.

Staging a fight for an opera is very much like choreographing an extremely dangerous looking dance. For a handful of seconds of stage violence it takes hours of planning, preparation, timing and rehearsal. The moves look incredibly fierce - but they are calculated to be safe. The wellbeing of the performers is paramount to everyone. Every precaution is taken to ensure that no one gets hurt. Accidents do happen, but fortunately they are few and far between. Precision, control and trust are enormous components of making sure the fight looks real, but not dangerous. Stage combat is not about anger, but about controlled chaos.

Who are these supers who voluntarily spend their evenings throwing punches, getting kicked and rolling on the deck? Supers come from all walks of life. By day they are teachers, lifeguards, engineers, businessmen. Yet when it is time for rehearsal they transform into the intrepid sailors who inhabit Melville’s watery world. The one thing that connects and binds these people is the love of the opera. They willingly spend their free time in the rehearsal hall and backstage. There is a certain kind of creative energy that is generated as performers put together a production. Ask any super, there is something very addictive about being in an opera. It is a lot of work, but ultimately very rewarding. For many opera lovers – it is an opportunity to be part of the process that brings music alive. Besides…it isn’t every day that you get to wear a costume and brawl in front of an audience of nearly three thousand people.

The fighting stops and the laughing and joking starts again. Men who were moments before pummeling each other are now helping each other up and giving friendly pats on the back. The crew of the Pequod gets back into their starting positions. “SET?” the stunt director asks. “SET!” is the resounding reply. “GO!”

Want to try out to be a super in our exciting 2013 season? Call the Super Hotline, 619-533-7073.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Video Podcast - A conversation with Talise Trevigne

Podcast Monday returns, this time with a podcast interview with the lovely Talise Trevigne. Talise talks about Pip, what's it is  like to singer a trouser role in a cast full of men, and her pivotal scene where she sings from a wire, 30 feet in the air. Enjoy!