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PDX OPERAbeat | A Company Blog is the blog for all things Portland Opera, featuring a variety of guest contributors who will provide insider's tidbits on all we do to celebrate the beauty and breadth of opera.

Falstaff: More mischief than we bargained for, frankly


Opera: never a dull moment

Tonight is the first Falstaff orchestra dress rehearsal, after a weekend of tech. Ordinarily tech rehearsals mostly involve working through aspects of the show like set changes and costume changes. We use all the real props (as opposed to rehearsal stand-ins), and everyone is, for the most part, in full costume. But last week, our Ford, Weston Hurt, fell and injured both his legs, putting him -- for the show, at least -- in a wheelchair. (He is going to be OK but can't walk around the stage for 2+ hours). He still very much wanted to sing in this show, so much of the past several days has involved restaging the opera to accomodate a wheelchair. This has meant the cast has come in for extra rehearsals; we've had carpenters building ramps so that the whole stage is wheelchair-accessible; our production crew has altered stage calls and dressers and dressing rooms and a whole lot else. We more or less ran the show with all these changes last night, and everything is going to work out fine. Weston is in good spirits, the cast are 100% rockstars, and our production folks are, I'm quite certain, the best on the planet. Here's an industry secret: 'the magic of theater' is made entirely of very hard work. 


By the time you see the show, it'll look like the wheelchair was a part of things all along.


Dispatch from the spot booth

the NASA station

surtitle score, George Manahan via maestro cam, surtitle computer


Falstaff is very nerve-wracking from a surtitle perspective. For the very first time, I requested a maestro cam -- a monitor that shows the conductor -- up in the spot booth, because the score flies by so quickly and tempo/meter changes happen so frequently that I do not stand a chance otherwise. My first night in the booth, I got completely lost in the second half of Act I, where the ladies sing a very brisk ensemble and then the men join in but are in a completely different meter, 6 against 4, and all 7? 8? of them are singing different lines of text. HOLY CATS. The maestro cam feels like a wonderful luxury, because for the very first time not only can I always see what meter we're in but I also get to see the entrances cued, so I have a failsafe if I doubt when I'm supposed to hit the button. But even with the monitor, it's still the most nervous I've ever been running titles. I almost can't pay attention to the text at all -- which is unheard of -- because if I do, I quickly lose place of exactly where I am in the measure and then I miss cues. I spend easily 3/4 of the show in furious concentration, mouthing ONE TWO ONE TWO to myself and vigorously tapping my foot. 


Adult Super-Vision: Part 2

This week, super Diana Harris returns to tell us about the final room run-through (and Weston's fall), and about this weekend's tech rehearsals from the supernumerary perspective. 



Tuesday, April 30: Room Run-through—Assistant Director Seth Hoff came over as I entered the rehearsal room. "I have a 'note' for you," he said; "I might as well give it to you now." A 'note' refers to something the directorial staff notice during rehearsal and write down. They save it for you until just before the next rehearsal, when you're more likely to remember to do it. My 'note' was: I must follow the same circular path to rejoin the crowd that I use to approach Falstaff; I must not go straight back through the group of principals who are, again, moving with Falstaff. See, I told you that this tiny little bit of action is very complicated.
I devoted most of Tuesday afternoon to homework: reading Merry Wives of Windsor, the Shakespeare play on which Arrigo Boito based the libretto. The play has even more characters and even more plot complications than the opera, but both deliver the same message. In the introduction, the Rev. H. N. Hudson writes, Falstaff "makes extemporaneous comedies out of his own shames and infirmities and is himself the most delighted spectator…of the comical as exhibited in himself." All the principals sing at the end of the opera; and the final line is "Ma ride ben chi ride la risata final." Literally: "But he laughs well who laughs the final laugh." Or, as Chris reminded us, the familiar: "He who laughs last, laughs best."
Before the room run through
I took this photo before things got started. You can see how a full-size mock-up of the set fits into the rehearsal room. It's hard to make out, but there's a lavender line on the floor representing the raised area on stage. I usually stand right next to that line and, of course, will have to step down and back up again for my tiny little bit.
Close to the center, four of the amazing child and teenage "supers" work on details of one of their set pieces with Lane, the dancer who represents the mythical Cacciatore Nero alla quercia di Herne (Black Hunter of Herne's Oak, or Black Huntsman), who lurks in Windsor Forest. Falstaff, in Part II, goes to Windsor Forest, antlers on his head, disguised as the Black Huntsman—the two encounter each other and… well, you have to see the show.
Herne the Hunter
Everything went beautifully until the reconciliation scene. I heard the fall and cries of pain when Ford (Weston Hurt) tripped on his cape as he stepped down from the upper level of the "oak tree" stump.
Someone immediately called for an ambulance and Jennifer quickly cleared the room. Several children were in tears; all of us were upset: a suddenly somber end to a delightful evening.
Wednesday, May 1—Jennifer wrote to tell us that Weston was released after a night at OHSU with "some torn muscle and a badly sprained ankle." Rehearsals continue as scheduled.
dressing room
Saturday, May 4: At the Keller—It's a good thing I've done this before: nobody pays attention as Carole and I find the dressing room we share on the third floor. Listening to the loudspeaker, we realize that tonight's rehearsal is beginning with Act III, scene 2: our scene. We arrive at "stage right" just in time to find our whips and our positions to enter on signal. Once on stage, I see the others are wearing their masks. Of course—but I don't know where mine is! Fortunately, Chris wants us to start over, so I have a couple of minutes to find the shelf where the masks are stored.
Weston is feeling much better and performs from a wheelchair, which he will do throughout the run. The stage has been adapted with ramps and everyone is careful not to jar his legs, which extend straight out in front of him.
Carole and I were not called for Piano Tech #1 on Friday, where several bits were changed. Tonight's rehearsal is also primarily to work on all the movement on stage. The principals sing molto sotto voce (very, very softly). As before, there's interaction and movement among the principals as Carole and make our way from the crowd to stand next to Eduardo. Although we know exactly when to begin whipping, we're still working on the moving forward part; but we're pretty sure we've got it. Eduardo now stands up as he sings the third "Ai, ai, mi pento." OK, I think, I turn and leave as he gets to his feet.
Sunday, May 5: Piano Dress Rehearsal—First, we put the front of our hair in pin-curls, with two parallel bobby pins, to make a base for attaching the wig cap. Then we went to make-up, where I explained that I didn't need any: my face is completely covered by the mask.
Shane had instructions to do foundation, eyes, and lips; so she did. I'll show her this photo tomorrow. Then to wigs; mine blends perfectly with my natural hair color, but, of course, it's styled completely differently. Back to the dressing room and into the costume, which weighs at least 15 lbs. I wear a scarf and cape because we're supposed to be outside in the woods at night.
Tonight and tomorrow night, we're allowed—in costume—to sit in the auditorium to watch the opera until just before our cue. The costumes and scenery on stage are beautiful, much different from the full-scale mock-up in the rehearsal room. Tomorrow night we rehearse with full orchestra.

I promised you a report of last weekend's MOLA conference, but I'm going to tell you next week -- I swear. There was too much to report on this week!


For more about our production of FALSTAFF, go here.