The Unsung Heroes of Opera by Jessie Betancourt
“Places, please. Places, please for the top of Act One.”
Every opera performance starts the same way- the stage manager calling the singers and supers to the stage.
Like a ship without a rudder, no opera can function without stage management. The San Diego Opera is very fortunate to have one of the best in the business, Mary Yankee Peters. Armed with nothing more than scores and head sets, and her team of assistants insures each production runs smoothly.
The stage management is never seen by the audience, but their role is vital.
Their herculean labor begins before the season starts. They spend months working with the directors and crews. They must learn the score and prepare for the first rehearsal. The first few weeks of rehearsal are usually held in a rehearsal room a few steps from the theater. From the first moment of rehearsal the stage manager is responsible for everything on stage. Nothing happens without her notice. She knows the score and forward. She knows not only the music, but also the libretto and the mood the director wants to convey.
As the opera moves through the rehearsal phase, the roles of stage manager and her two assistant stage managers become very active. Their scores fill with notes and colorful post its, which become the road map to a successful opera. Each of those notes translates into an important action on stage. Each movement, entrance, sound effects, lighting cue, fly call is flagged for action.
After months of preparation and weeks of rehearsal the opera moves to the theater. The final phase of rehearsal is called “tech week.” The performers are on stage, working with the actual set. The stage managers’ duties expand as they continue to work with the director, stage crews and performers to fine tune cues and timing.
Once the opera moves into the theater the stage is radioed and miked to the props and scenic crews as well as the backstage overhead speakers. She is heard and obeyed by all. The stage manager commands the deepest respect. With her the stage manager each and every movement on the stage.
Not many audience members are aware of the dedicated team of people who create opera out of the chaos. Without their unseen professionalism nothing would happen on stage. Hundreds of singers would not be given the cue to fill the stage. Pieces of scenery would not fly in and out of the scene. Lights would not come up or fade into an artificial twilight. The only reason any of these happen is become of the dedicated team of stage management.
And every opera performance ends the same way. A calm voice saying, “This is a two minute warning to the end of the opera. Two minutes.”