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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.

Adult Super-vision: On the set with supernumerary Diana Harris

The Major Orchestra Librarians' Association (MOLA) conference, which took place in Portland this weekend, is officially wrapped. It was a TREMENDOUS success -- the Oregon Symphony librarians totally nailed it. But I am exhausted! That's why this post is a day later than usual.


I have a lot to tell you about the conference, which I'll do in next week's post. In the meantime, this week I bring you a report from the Falstaff frontlines from board member Diana Harris, who is a supernumerary in our production.



I've loved opera for as long as I can remember. Why? With story, singers, orchestra, costumes, and sets, opera is the ultimate combination of music, theater, often dance, and the visual arts. Sometimes an opera needs a supernumerary or two. "Supernumerary" means "one who appears onstage without speaking lines or as part of a crowd" (Random House Dictionary of the English Language). They're referred to as "supers."


As an opera lover who is neither singer nor musician, I wanted to be a "super" for decades; it was the only way I could be in the middle of the music. The current production of Falstaff, in which I am one of two adult "supers" in the final scene, is the fifth time I've been privileged to do so.


Tuesday, 4/23/13—Myriad aspects of this production, including rehearsals, have been underway for weeks. With only seventeen days until opening night, the pieces are now coming together. Late this evening--after a very long day for the production staff-- our stage director (and company General Director) Chris Mattaliano worked with the large chorus (who represent fairies and townspeople), nine children (who play fairies and devils), and two women supers (townswomen) to block out the final scene. "Blocking out" means that Chris explained what will be happening on stage as various groups enter, when and from where we should enter, where we should end up, and what we should do at various points during the scene.


None of the principal singers were at this rehearsal, a member of the production staff stood in for Falstaff and we had to imagine all the others. Carole, the other "adult super," and I were issued our special props: raffia cat o'nine tails. This was how we learned that we whip Falstaff.


This is a first for me: center front, facing the audience, doing something that moves the story forward and interacting with the main character.




Saturday, 4/27/13—Everybody was here for this rehearsal of Act III, scenes 1 and 2. And everybody sang, accompanied by Tom Webb at the piano. This time we went through Scene 2 in chunks, refining positions and actions. When Carole and I came forward, Eduardo Chama, our Falstaff, joked, "Not the face, not the face!" Of course not, we aim for his legs—and he wears lots of padding.


Carole and I come from opposite sides of the stage. The tricky part is knowing when to move out of the crowd, down one step, circle around so that we don't interfere with the action of the singers, and end up next to Falstaff just as Ford, sings "Triplice mento!" (You lied three times!)


As the principals sing, Carole and I whip Falstaff until he protests "Ai! Ai! mi pento! (Ow! Ow! I repent!) the third time. We return to our places in the crowd as he sings, "Perdon!" (Pardon!), and the whole scene briefly resembles a church service. This may sound simple, but there's a lot going on. We have to pay attention to everything so that we are in exactly the right place at the right time.


After we worked through the entire act in chunks, Chris had us do it all over again, straight through. This time everyone wore masks. Carole and I have white bird masks with sharp beaks. Now I'm thinking that wearing a mask will be almost as good as standing, walking, or sitting with my back to the audience.




Sunday, 4/28/13—Chris refined and enhanced in rehearsal this afternoon. "Stand farther back," he coached, "so that you can really lay into the stroke."

Carole and I also know what we need to do after we meld back into the chorus of townspeople. And the music is absolutely fabulous.

Next call: room run-through on Tuesday, May 1.



For more info about our production of FALSTAFF, go here!



Since retiring from Intel, "Opera Fanatic" Diana Harris has written a book based on her great-grandfather's collected papers (Reflections of a Civil War Locomotive Engineer: a ghost-written memoir) and set up a website (