- Resident Artists
A huge THANK YOU and BRAVA to Logan, who took our Summer Opera Education Class: "Putting it Together" and shared her experiences by writing wonderful blog posts throughout the 8-week interactive class.
You can read all of the blog posts about our summer class – including posts from last summer – right here. Enjoy!
Week eight: “Putting it Together: Rehearse it!”
The final class!
Tonight, we had the opportunity to observe a rough staging of an opera scene. Hannah Penn and Caitlin Mathes returned as Cornelia and Sesto from G. F. Handel’s Giulio Cesare, with General Director Christopher Mattaliano and Collaborative Pianist David Saffert. For the first half of class, Mr. Mattaliano directed our singers to perform the scene in a naturalistic way, ie: following the libretto very closely and acting out what the text is saying. For the second half, Mr. Mattaliano chose a different approach and directed our singers to act stylistically and fluidly.
The scene concludes the first act of Giulio Cesare with the duet “Son nata a lagrimar” (“I was born to weep”) between Sesto and his mother Cornelia. Sesto is returned temporarily to his mother after failing to avenge his father’s death. For the first direction of the scene, Mr. Mattaliano had a clear idea of how he wanted our singers to perform, and gave them specific movements for them to make. Two guards (performed by fellow classmates Jeff and Mark) bring in Sesto (Caitlin Mathes) to have a word with Cornelia (Hannah Penn). Cornelia would hold and comfort her son the way any mother would.
After describing the scene, our singers gently sang a quick run through of the recitative and A section while Mr. Mattaliano gave a few directions and suggestions. The singers would sometimes repeat what he had said or would ask questions for clarification so everyone was on the same page. This is important in the rough blocking stage. One of the many duties of the director and the performers is to make sure the opera has a vision, and that everyone understands what’s going on. Once the direction and blocking had been established, Mr. Saffert rolled the opening chord for Sesto to enter.
It was amazing. In just a short amount of time, the scene was crafted and the characters came to life. I did not know what the translation was while our performers were singing, but it didn’t matter: their acting was superb. Sesto was hunched over in humility and shame while Cornelia embraced her son and cradled him in her arms. After the cadence ending the A section, Mr. Mattaliano stopped the music and offered a few suggestions to improve the scene. Both Ms. Penn and Ms. Mathes offered suggestions as well and asked more questions. Mr. Mattaliano then let them decide how to move in the scene. This allowed for more ideas to flow, testing out different blocking patterns to see what worked in the scene and what didn’t.
After running through the first half of the piece again with a few stops and tweaks here and there, the same process was done with the B section and the return to the A section. Sesto was being taken away from his mother at first with a little struggle, then as his mother turns away, Sesto willingly walks away with the two guards. Finally, we began from the top and ran the entire piece through. I could not take my eyes away! Even without a full orchestra or costumes, the piece had come to life. Our singers were outstanding and their movements were perfect. Even in moments of “opera time” where movement slows down to fit the music (especially with Handel) it all seemed very natural and made me start to tear up a little bit.
After a quick break, the scene was directed in a totally different and stylized way that needed little instruction. This time, there was a wall in between Cornelia and Sesto so they could not see or comfort each other. Our singers just sang through the piece once through and did not need much instruction. I can’t quite explain why, but I felt this version was heavier than the other. In the first staging, the two could see, touch, and comfort each other, whereas in this one they had to react with the music in solitude. This second staging was even more mesmerizing than the first. I struggled to take notes because I did not want to look away for one second. Brava!
We had a little time for a quick Q & A with our four guests and then sadly, class had to end for the last time. Afterward, there was a lovely reception in the kitchen with fruit, cookies, drinks, and pleasant conversation. This class series has been a wonderful experience filled with information and insight on the world of opera and the Portland Opera company. Thank you so much to Alexis Hamilton for gathering us together and teaching us each week for the past two months, and to all of our guests who shared their knowledge and experience with us.
See you at the opera!
Very truly yours,