Long time no see! When things get crazy on the performing side, the blog tends to slide. This is the fall of Roles I Don't Usually Get to Do, which makes it even more fun and busy.
In October, we launched Spotlight Concerts, a new concert opera organization in Austin, TX. My goal is to give my many wonderful professional friends, as well as budding professionals and serious amateurs, the opportunity to work up and perform roles and repertoire we all would like to get on our resumes. So far, it's been a lot of fun. We have two very different regular venues and are hoping to add at least one more.
We kicked off with a semi-staged Highlights from Carmen and followed up with a trio concert which included a full half of Verdi goodies. During this whole time, I was also rehearsing Trouble in Tahiti and The Italian Lesson, which I'll be doing at Piccolo Opera San Antonio just as soon as I get back from Syracuse where I'm singing Orlovsky in Fledermaus and directing the Resident Artist's show, Little Red Riding Hood. And I mean, getting off the plane in Austin and driving to San Antonio for a rehearsal that night, as we open four days later. CRAZY, but also fun.
Orlovsky is one of those roles I never thought to sing in a production, though I've performed the aria and all the ensembles numerous times in concert. Douglas Kinney Frost, the General Director in Syracuse and my current boss, professes himself surprised that this is my very first pants role, and this gives me hope, because there are certainly others I'd like to do. It's an interesting acting challenge.
This is the third role for which I've employed a dialect coach. In Portland last spring for Pirates of Penzance, the opera engaged dialect coach, voice actor, and all-around cool lady Mary McDonald Lewis (Mary Mac to most) to teach the cast three different dialects: RP (aka Received Pronunciation, aka what most people think of as a high-class British accent), Cockney, and Cornish. I got to be Team Cornwall and it was both hugely challenging and fun. So, I took advantage of proximity to coach a Russian dialect. I found it inexplicably easier than Cornish. Go figure. Maybe because I've actually studied Russian and already knew how to do a couple of the harder-to-master sounds. Anyway, it's huge fun and I ran around the house for weeks annoying my husband by practicing on the dogs. "Kahm chere, leetle veener dawks! Lat me prektyiss my Rasshan ekksent ahn you!"
Other preparations for this role have included researching how to walk, gesture, and stand differently than I'm accustomed to doing. Many pants role characters are gawky teenagers or young men, and you often see them overacted in an effort to appear boyish. But Orlovsky is a full-grown man and an aristocrat, so he is going to be more solid and conservative in his movements. I watch my male colleagues in rehearsal to see how they stand when they are at ease, and take it just a notch further. I try to stand with my body weight evenly distributed on both feet (because if a woman stands on one foot, she tends to cock a hip. They are, after all, basically built-in shelves for holding kids and groceries). I try to keep my shoulders back and a little straighter. I'm still not happy with my gestures, I think they're too fluid and effeminate. But it's fun to experiment and play.
Further preparation includes dealing with all the ... ahem ... equipment ... upstairs. When I spoke to the costumer about it, she initially looked at me in surprise and said that she had not made any plans. "Don't they usually just use an ACE bandage?" she asked me.
Well, if you have the sort of chest that is in vogue in France (you know, where the perfect size fits in a champagne glass) that might work, but I'm more of an Oktoberfest sort of girl, if you know what I mean, and a bandage seemed unlikely to do the trick. So, I threw myself upon the mercy of colleagues and made an appeal on Facebook. (Interestingly, the first responders were men). Eventually a solution involving mostly stuff I already have was reached: three sports bras, each too small, and an ACE waist wrap with heavy-duty Velcro. "You're not going to be comfortable," my friends warned. The whole things sounds like getting a three-hour mammogram, except everything will be too hot instead of cold. The things we do for art.
Speaking of which, yesterday my colleague Katrina Thurman and I played to a PACKED crowd at the Syracuse Barnes & Noble. Yes, that's right, totally livin' the dream. I say that tongue in cheek, of course --- I am a big believer in doing publicity for whatever company I am working for, and in this town if it means singing at the Barnes & Noble to a delighted group of people, including a number who didn't know they were going to be hearing opera during their Sunday afternoon browse --- so be it. Afterwards an elderly couple in their car rolled down their window and called me over as I was running to meet my ride. The husband proudly told me that his wife was a soprano and sang Gilbert & Sullivan, and her sister was an alto so they sang duets together. They couldn't remember when the show was supposed to be so I ran back inside and got them a brochure.
It's on us, friends, to always be ambassadors for our art. You never know where you'll find fans (and I've found them in some unexpected places). There's an article from a couple of years ago on NPR's Deceptive Cadences blog entitled Opera is for the 99%: Here's What You Told Us, in which people (myself included, and I was quotes) respond to a previous post called Is Opera Stuff Only Rich People Like? Well, I've posted here before about my experiences around the country with folks --- decidedly NOT the 1 %ers --- in rural areas, urban coffee shops, even at McDonalds. I've seen young people in jeans, leather jackets and blue mohawks right beside the ladies in their furs.
Opera is for people who have a passion for it, regardless of what's in their pocketbook, and part of my job is to help connect those people who might not have been exposed to it just yet. It's one reason I am very passionate about making GOOD art, which for me includes a lot of research into both the music and the character, and why all aspects of creating that character (which might include imprisoning my boobies in three undersized sports bras and a waist cincher) are so important to me. The audience ALWAYS deserves the best I can give.
Ent nahw I must get kahffee before reharasal. Niss, haht black kahffee. Eet helps vit de ekkssent.