Thursday, November 17, 2011

Columnist performs opera

By Alex Domine, A&E Columnist

Rehearsing the opera

Most people will never experience the physical and emotional exhaustion of participating in an opera.

My latest challenge was appearing in Pacific Lutheran University’s production of Puccini’s comic opera, "Gianni Schicchi."

"Gianni Schicchi" is a short one-act show that only runs for about an hour. It is among my most difficult played credits to date.

The demands for this show are unique. The show has 10 roles or family members. Most of them remain on stage and active for the duration of the show. I played Simone, the oldest in the family, who was comedic and clueless.

Looking at the musical score was like deciphering an old football playbook. The cast list was posted last spring so we had all summer to learn the music.

I spent about 42 hours a week practicing for this production. This consisted of an entire class period dedicated to rehearsal in addition to night sessions. Rehearsal on my own time was essential to learning the 200-page piece of music.

Puccini crafted this show in such a way that calls for the performer to learn the show as a whole rather than in specific scenes or numbers.

Getting the show to a point where the actors could get through the music without stopping took months. Adding costumes, lights and make-up to the Eastvold stage seemed impossible to accomplish in a week.

Everyone had to exercise patience, cooperation and focus in order to make it to opening night successfully.

In order to avoid musical travesty, everyone involved in the opera made this project just as important as eating. Finding rehearsal time is a semester-long scavenger hunt.

Humming melodies in the dinner line, in the bathroom stall and in the middle of the night was essential in making this production a success.

It doesn’t stop at learning the music. Memorization, staging, lights and costumes are the last ingredients in the explosive nature of "Gianni Schicchi.” It takes discipline, dedication and faith in the payoff to survive a show like this.

Performing the opera

The mood of opening night was more convoluted than an expensive cocktail. There was excitement, anxiety, irritability and a shot of diva in the air back stage.

Luckily, most characters stayed on stage the whole time. We concentrated on what was happening in the show and forgot about backstage antics.

However, the stagehands were just as anxious as the actors. Their job was to make sure we looked good on stage. That meant communicating via radio to the light operators on the back wall of Eastvold.

Communication and timing were everything. If a stage manager said “go” at the wrong time, it may have looked like the show was taking place in the Arctic rather than Florence.

We all had the same goal in mind and that was what we all had to remind ourselves to avoid failure.

There were missed cues every night. These consisted of people singing the wrong notes at the wrong time or not singing at all. No matter what happens, we didn't stop the momentum of the show.

The sacrifices we made in our own personal lives for the success of the show paid off. Every performance was executed precisely. Five months of diligence groomed us to handle mistakes quietly.

There were a lot of consequences from being involved in the opera in my life as a student. However, the rewards were worth missed friends, missed deadlines and skipped classes.

We’ve all graduated from the production and had four nights of successful shows. Before opening, that was all that I had hoped for.