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.
This is my first blog as Canio. Being on the road and getting to know new faces and reconnecting with familiar friends is very enjoyable and also similar to the story of Pagliacci. In the opera we are a traveling troupe of performers who get caught up in a very unfortunate dilemma. Following the plot and story line is a must. In the end I end up killing my wife and her lover. In real life we are the same troupe without the problems of the opera plot. We get to make up the story as we go along. That’s why being a performer is so much fun. No killing of colleagues or complex opera plots to worry about, at least for the most part. Just an enjoyable chapter of a performer’s life where we get to live as a troupe and make music and put on a good show. A few weeks together – where all we are concerned with is our troupe. Of course we all have another side, with our families and other responsibilities to think about. But bottom line it is so much fun! What an honor to make great music with wonderful colleagues and to have another opportunity to sing Canio with Opera Omaha. Here’s to a great show, in bocca al lupo, Tonio DiPaolo signing off.
It’s 4:30 in the morning and I can’t sleep. After a year of planning, we are now poised to start principal rehearsals this morning. It’s a chance to reunite with several colleagues from past productions and to meet some singers new to me who are mightily impressive. Our chorus has worked hard the past week to capture the letter and the spirit of Leoncavallo’s choral writing, and we had the first staging rehearsal with the Ragazzi (Italian for “kids”) yesterday emphasizing key words like “Evviva!” and “Indietro” and “Arrivano !” for dramatic and vocal effect.
What keeps a stage director up at night? The pieces can’t stage themselves – nor should they. We’ve brought an extremely creative cast together, and I want to see their best ideas, their responses and reactions to the characters and situations. But, just as the strongest writer craves an editor, the best opera wants guidance, balance, and a taut storyline. Essential to this is the score. I try and base my decisions on the music – honoring pauses, tempo changes, the small indications from the composer – so that the visual story mirrors and enhances the aural one. Perhaps that’s what keeps me up at night. Do I know the score well enough? We’re listening to a bunch of clowns – or so the title says. Pagliacci is the plural of one of the Italian words for clown. Which will we believe: the clown or the human? Are we expressing ourselves or performing for you? Part of the genius of this opera is this underlying paradox.
The music is in the hands of Richard Buckley, my trusted friend and colleague. We have collaborated on Tosca, Turandot and Pagliacci over the past several years. He knows how to make these pieces crackle with life, with vigor, and above all, with dramatic intent. While we all have cherished recordings, they are placeholders for the shared experience of 100 musicians focused on a central theme, a central goal in a theater full of engaged listeners. As Pagliacci unfolds, Richard is with me at every step with his attention to our blueprint (the score) and his instinctive pacing and leadership.
One moment we staged yesterday with chorus had no singing in it whatsoever. The townspeople return from church (or the tavern) and head home before the evening’s Commedia dell arte performance. Its background to the principal action of a fight between Canio and Nedda over her supposed infidelity which we have yet to stage. With the energy of 40 additional characters onstage, the dimensions of the story become exponential. Now each of these chorus “stories” are attached to a soundtrack and we have the Verismo (“slice of life”) world unfolding in front of us. Key moments in opera almost always happen in isolation, but when the powers (and sheer numbers) collide and combine; Opera shows its true force. The visual drama on the stage matches the energy of this score. But hopefully our audience will be too caught up in the opera to notice the solid construction behind it. Pagliacci can be a harrowing ride. That’s our challenge. As rehearsals to begin — and maybe I can get the ideas out of my head, onto the stage and I can get some sleep!
Opera Omaha’s all-new website went live last week just in time for the first mainstage production, Pagliacci. Starting the week of October 5th, you’ll be able to follow the rehearsal process with Blog entries from our cast and artistic staff. Get ready and get your tickets; you don’t want to miss Pagliacci!
Pagliacci Fri | Oct 16 | 7:30 pm
[Buy tickets] Sun | Oct 18 | 2:00 pm
If you missed the BBQ – you still have time to get to Burgers & Bordeaux. The Opera Omaha Guild’s Burgers & Bordeaux is the perfect end of the summer event. Five top area chefs compete in a Best Burger throw down and you get to taste samples of each entry. Appetizers and desserts are also included with adult tickets. Amazing wine selections from Hans Fahden Vineyard, Goosecross Cellars, and other wineries will be available for $5 per glass and includes a souvenir wine glass. Family activities will be available to entertain kids of all ages. Cast your vote for your favorite or just enjoy a delicious summer event with friends and family.
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