Opera season is almost here, which means our super Super Captain, Jesi Betancourt, returns with her series of articles for Aria Serious "The Super Captain Chronicles". In this month's article, Jesi explains just what happens to make an opera come together for opening night.
Rehearsal is Key by Jesi Betancourt
Opening night is always exciting. The nerves. The adrenaline. The thunderous applauds of the audience. The first show is a very special night for performers. Yet, before the conductor can give the first downbeat and the curtain goes up, a great deal of time, planning and rehearsal goes into the opera before the audience hears the first note.
On a recent evening in January, the first night of rehearsal for the season opener, Pagalicci, began. The first rehearsal is always filled with warm greetings and enormous bear hugs. Many of the supers and singers haven’t seen each other since last season. While there are many familiar faces, the new performers are quickly integrated into the tight knit cast. There is also the business
of…well...business. SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) is a universal concept the world over and nothing new to the San Diego Opera.
The first rehearsal of any production is usually about blocking. It sounds much more frightful then actuality. “Blocking” is the term of art in which the director explains where he wants a singer or actor to go on the stage. Without clear stage direction performers would be bouncing off each other like pinballs in an arcade game. Blocking allows the director to create what looks to be chaos with simple choreography. Much of the initial blocking is done without the music, but it is very clear the timing of the blocking is based on notes and measures. Movement and music blend to create what looks to be a spontaneous scene.
The music is introduced only after much of the blocking is set. Everyone is called to places and the piano begins to play. Not until the scene is run with the music does anyone know if it works properly. From time to time there is a traffic jam of bodies, but much of the time it works exactly as planned. Mistakes are greeted with laughter and the phrase: “Reset. Let’s do it again.” And they do it again. And again.
Rehearsal takes a great deal of dedication by all performers. Each time they practice the same scene over and over, they put in the same amount of energy. The singer doesn’t miss a note, even perched on top of a seven foot moving ladder headed for what looks like certain disaster.
The amount of rehearsal varies from opera to opera. Smaller productions with few cast members require less time. Grand productions, such as Aida, involve more time to get three hundred performers into place. The goal for each performance is the same - making music worth seeing.
Have you ever wondered how a fight scene or love scene looks so spontaneous and exciting? The answer? Rehearsal. And lots of it.