The last day before the final dress. This has been a fast process having started rehearsals only one week ago. All the soloists are excellent and have come very prepared. Garnett has directed a very detailed vivid production and all on stage are energized. This is the first time I have worked with the Omaha Symphony. They are being very responsive and cooperative, and I look forward to making music with them in mode. Pagliacci is always a challenge due to its musical language and huge emotional palette, but, always extremely rewarding.
I am at “home” now after the first orchestra dress. I put home in quotes for the obvious reason. It isn’t really home, but we do our best to make it feel like our home. I even go so far as to pack and ship a box of things that I consider a bit luxurious. They are mostly kitchen items: a good set of CUTCO knives, a hot water pot that heats water super fast, spices, left over kitchen condiments from my last job…you get the idea. Then before the last performance, I will pack it all up and ship it off to my next gig.
It’s always difficult to unwind after a high energy rehearsal like tonight. I was all geared up since this is my first Nedda. Before the rehearsal I “walked” through the whole show with all of my staging and double checked all of the spots I have a tendency to miss musically. I also make a game plan for the rehearsal. For example, I have a phrase that repeats itself in act 2, but with slight changes. So I resolve to commit the first version to my brain before the show and second version during the intermission so I don’t confuse myself during act 1 and accidentally go into the second version.
I also make a game plan vocally. I decided that for this rehearsal I was going to focus on taking a good low prep breath for every phrase of singing. I do these little game plans because it can be very easy to get swept away with all of the other things going on around you and not do anything well. As for how I did in succeeding with my plans? Well, I wasn’t able to get a good breath for every phrase, but I did much better that I would have if I had not planned for it. And yes, I DID get the two phrases correct for each act. A small victory.
Well, tonight was the sitzprobe rehearsal; the first time the singers sing against, I mean with, the orchestra. We sang while ‘sitzing’ on stage while the orchestra played in the pit of the beautiful Orpheum Theater. Someone asked me this evening how many productions of this show I have sung. I think I have sung around 6 various productions. However, it was my introduction to the piece that I would like to share with you.
While living in Germany from 95-99, I was cast as Tonio for an 8 City European tour to celebrate an anniversary celebration of Utrecht University in Holland. The university cast the opera with young professional international soloists and pulled the orchestra, chorus and crew from students, alumni and folks from Utrecht. Now, what made this tour particularly special was that we performed the opera in a round blue and orange circus tent. While the orchestra was set up on one portion of the outer ring, bleachers were set up in an identical way that one would find when attending a circus. As the crowds would come into the tent with sodas and popcorn, etc., the orchestra played Fellini Film music scores while a host of clowns, acrobats, and jugglers created a unique atmosphere preparing the environment for this magnificent piece of music drama. The audience, the tent, the summer time, and outside air all joined together to create an incredible evening. The action took place inside the tent ring where you would expect to see animal acts and the like. Nedda’s huge dress, which was hung atop the tent, looked like a net dropped and draped over the waiting sopranos head in the middle of her aria. Canio’s vest flew in as he prepared for his aria. For the Commedia scenes as well as the opening chorus the extra acrobats and jugglers had wonderful tricks.
The single element which made this a particularly wonderful experience was that the entire company traveled and camped in each city much the same way that Canio, Nedda, Tonio and Canio do in the first act. Each city where we played: Cagnes su mer, Sarlat, Luxenbourg, Bologna, Fiesole, Pisa, Luzerne, and Utrecht, greeted us as we entered the city much the same way as Leoncavallo’s characters are welcomed. We had a staff who cooked for us and the entire company of crew, orchestra and chorus camped in their own personal tents. While the principals were provided with pension or hotel stays, I chose to camp with the company. This experience of truly living Pagliacci was a tremendous gift. After the show closed the company needed to liquidate all objects and items associated with the tour. I acquired my Tonio costume which included very special shoes just made for me. I wear these shoes each time I sing this role and Rigoletto as well. Be sure to look at my shoes.
Omaha, get ready for a wonderful evening of music drama next weekend. This is another moment when I can sincerely say, “I love my job!”
Day four of rehearsal and our first night on stage – It is always exciting to move from the rehearsal space to the theater. And what a beautiful theatre visually and acoustically – an ideal space for an opera. I think it is one of the best regional theaters I have ever been in. Also, our first night with the chorus – a warm and inviting group. They sound great!
The first rehearsal on stage is always fraught with problems – a new space, always bigger than you imagine, the great distance from the orchestra pit and the conductor, but also exhilarating, like your own personal playground. The set is stunning and enormous.
But most importantly, it is my dog’s birthday today. Lulu is a seven year old Bichon Frise. She has been traveling since she was six months old and has been all over the country with us. No great celebration, but she did get a special bone from Whole Foods. We were also treated to a visit from my wife’s best friend and previous High Priestess in Aida here at Opera Omaha, Jodi Frisbie. One of the great things about the vagabond life of an opera singer is being able to reconnect with friends who live around the world. And as we unwind after the rehearsal, drinking tea and snacking, the ladies are contributing to this very blog entry.
So how is it playing lovers onstage with my wife? I will let the audience decide if we are a convincing couple.
As a native of Wichita, it is a real thrill to be back in the Midwest after years of living and singing in Europe. I am among old friends, new friends, and an ensemble of truly gifted world-class artists. This is also my first time performing the role of Beppe (the character who tries in vain – trust me on this – to keep the show going when Canio goes off the deep end and pulls the knife out). And while it may be my first time in this role, the cast is full of artists who have performed this piece a number of times, one of whom is our Canio, Tonio DiPaolo.
The singers who have done this opera before can pass on helpful tips like Tonio did for me today. At the end of Act 1, Beppe runs on to the stage to confront the knife-wielding Canio, who goes berserk after discovering that Nedda is cheating on him. Canio wants to cut Nedda to pieces, and Beppe wants to bring Canio back from the edge so that the show may go on. As Beppe temporarily calms Canio down, he must sing a particularly tricky passage that requires perfect coordination with the Maestro. One misstep and it is too late to regain musical footing.
For this entrance I had envisioned a super hero sprint across the stage, leaping down a few stairs, tackling Canio, and tossing off my tricky phrase all within five seconds. Some things work better in theory. We did it; I came in a beat late, and then realized it was not such a good idea. But you have to try things out, I believe. Tonio turned to me, made a simple and gracious staging suggestion to rectify the situation, and it worked. It is times like these when one appreciates good colleagues and a benevolent rehearsal atmosphere. Thankfully, we have an abundance of both.
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