Thursday | Oct 15, 2009

Pagliacci – Notes from final dress by Garnett Bruce

Last night was the final dress rehearsal for Pagliacci – we were able to run the acts without stopping for the most part. While we have gradually moved to running scenes and then bigger chunks of the piece – transition moments, entrances & exits often require adjustment from the work we did in the rehearsal room and our initial stage/piano rehearsals. Final dress is also one final chance to resolve the lighting cues. Ben Pearcy, our lighting designer, has focused the stage lighting with a variety of colors to both light the artists (especially their faces) and to shift the mood to mirror the emotional journey of the score. We made a number of notes at the last rehearsal, and now we need to review our work, edit our choices and see it again. We work a great deal balancing color temperature – something too bright and the life gets washed out of the picture, but something too dark or too saturated, and details are obscured. Some of the gentle gel color in the lights turned the actors’ skin and costumes the same color as some of the scenery, so that’s at the top of our list to remedy. It involves electricians on ladders crawling out to lights hung way overhead or on the balcony rail – often a time-consuming process – but it’s something you can’t really know until you put the whole picture together. Ben directs our eyes to the climax of the story in each scene – and it’s often amazing to see a set under “work-light” (normal overhead lights) and see it spring to life when the stage lights are turned on it (or in many cases, artfully turned off).

Monday was our first stage/orchestra which went quite well. But there are always those “ensemble” places between stage and orchestra that can be a challenge. A chorus (and cast) used to hearing the percussive piano has to adapt to the smoother lines of woodwinds and string instruments. Verismo opera is notorious for shifting beats and taking moments “out of time” – part of the evolution of the art form rearranging style and structure to engage the audience. Richard Buckley is a master of this style of music – so we look to him to guide our adjustments from the last rehearsal that will make a difference tonight.

At the end of rehearsal we went through our last set of notes – looking for those moments that we can improve: pointing up details to lend focus, encouraging strong moments to be a tad stronger to read to the back of the auditorium, and confirming cues with our stage manager. She’s the unsung hero of any production – the coordinator / den mother/ anticipator of problems / time keeper in all our rehearsals. You won’t see her take a bow onstage, but when the curtain goes up or the lanterns light up, she’s the one in control of all the elements and synchronizing them with the music. Opera is a great process – melding together so many talents, so many arts – and is at it’s best in a brilliant natural acoustic where the collective energy of so many becomes united behind one idea – the composer’s music. Now we look forward to adding the final element: the audience !

Wednesday | Oct 14, 2009

Pagliacci | Maestro Buckley

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.

Tuesday | Oct 13, 2009

Pagliacci | Kelly Kaduce as Nedda

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.

Monday | Oct 12, 2009

Pagliacci | Todd Thomas as Tonio

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!”

Friday | Oct 09, 2009

Lee Gregory – Silvio in Pagliacci

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.



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