Sunday, May 16, 2010

From Rehearsals

Well, it's been a long time since I last blogged: I guess I've been kinda busy!

I flew down to Fort Worth on Thursday April 29 and plunged right into rehearsing that very evening. After three days of purely musical rehearsals — the singers and chorus having learned their parts — the staging rehearsals were set to start on the Monday. On the Friday evening I heard the chorus for the first time, 32 singers, and it was my first overwhelming thrill: to hear that mass of trained big voices singing the music was spine-tingling. And then on Sunday was the first (of three) orchestra "reads" (as the rehearsals are called) with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. This was my second overwhelming thrill: to hear that fantastic ensemble just read for the first time all those parts of the score I had never heard except in my imagination was — indescribable. And it'll only get better as they learn the music and bring all their beautiful musicality to bear on the score. When I finally hear the orchestra, with the chorus, and dancers, AND the soloists — and in the theater, with the sets and lights and costumes and action.... I'd better be sitting down!

Oh — just because I have not singled out the soloists yet does not mean they are taken for granted: these magnificent singers were all known to me (except for one — who arrived ill so I wasn't able to hear her sing out for another week!) and are all superb singers AND actors!

Every evening we all receive an e-mail with our marching orders for the next day. The festival is mounting three productions — two simultaneously and one (BNF) also simultaneously but a week later — so each production’s personnel knows who is called to rehearse which scene at which time and where. The place is the Fort Worth convention hall, and the room is enormous and is set up with most of the set furniture and other pieces and props, although the main set won’t be seen until it’s built and brought into the hall. It’s a rather huge “shell” but I won’t give it away except to say that it — sets the tone.... And there will be lots of projections too....

So a typical rehearsal day might be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a lunch break, or 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. with a dinner break, or sometimes from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. with lunch and dinner breaks! And occasionally I’m whisked off to do some promo work, at a local public TV station in Dallas, or for a local paper or magazine. I pitched the opera to a convention of music critics! And there’s a public event this week with me and a couple of the singers.

The dancers had their first rehearsal; the supers (that’s the “supernumeraries”) will come in soon. Every rehearsal has, besides the singers — and their “covers” or understudies — the music director, or his assistant, who taught the chorus their parts, and who covers for Joe Illick, the conductor, who is also leading the Don Giovanni — the stage director, David Gately, and his assistant; the stage manager and his two assistants (who give stage left and stage right cues); and occasionally guest observers. Oh and of course, the accompanist, Chris Devlin, who has to negotiate a merciless and sometimes unplayable score — just because orchestral music sometimes doesn’t translate well onto the keyboard — for hours, following the conductor.

Sometimes in will waft Darren Woods, who runs the company and loves to attend the rehearsals whenever he has a break from everything else he’s doing. Darren was himself had a very successful opera singing career, so he knows and loves all about the opera house and rehearsals.


And today is the first “Sitzprobe,” a German word used to mean a rehearsal in which the singers “SIT” (that is, with none of the stage blocking) and sing their parts with the orchestra. We will have two such rehearsals. This is a very special moment, because the singers have only ever sung and rehearsed their roles with piano accompaniment, which most of the time doesn’t sound much like what the orchestra will be playing. I realize that sounds strange, but in truth, it is a bit like make-believe with the piano! And of course, the orchestra has yet to hear how what they’ve been rehearsing fits with those missing vocal lines THEY will hear for the first time! The only two people in that room that “know the score” going in will be the composer and the conductor.

And now it is less than two weeks to the opening night. I stepped into Bass Hall the other day for the first time this trip and — it is sensational! I hope I can stand the excitement.