Friday, December 24, 2010

It's Christmastide at St. Norbert's Catholic Church....

obviously....


There's the woman who is in choir just for the purest fun of singing. Her simplistic bliss infectious. Another is trying to dirgedly lead others in her section to the Path of Right Notes. The second-in-command is haughtily bored, while the littlest chorister in front closes her eyes in obvious self-rapture. There are those who are COMPLETELY clueless (tenors consist the majority of this group), and those who wish they were. A leader tries, in vain, to show his tiny 2-man section a glimmer of a hope of an idea of what is going on. The blind girl rolls her non-existent eyes at the mistakes her trapeze artist comrade leads her into, getting more frustrated at every misjudged leap. Her face, now frozen because of so much scowling, will make her laugh later. Now however? ...the spicy Latina Grama in the first row, though, I think has finally come to a musical catharsis, where everything now makes sense. The leader behind her smiles pontifically, at least outwardly inattentive of every half- and three-quarter toned error until the blatantly obvious and soured dissonance glazes her eyes over and purses her lips together, seemingly without her permission. We have a new French horn player, though I have a hard time believing that he will be playing with us again. Now I know frenchies can curdle a chord, which is supremely interesting. The tympani has his kettles perfectly tuned... Almost. Well, all but one, and that only a 1/2-tone sharp. But t is before noon, and one can certainly not expect a percussionist to be godly before then. The trumpets, however, only occasionally bump into each other on their celestial flight through the music that rises above an "A." The conductor, though, remarkably keeps a relative cool through the true-heartedness of the performers' zeal for Try.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Opera

PART TWO

"5 minutes to the end of Act 1, 5 minutes to the end of Act 1. Thats places for chorus, Childrens' Chorus, and Supers. Places for Chorus, Childrens' Chorus, and Supers. 5 minutes to the end of Act 1." We hear Mary Yankee Peters call over the intercom. The scrape of chairs and laughter at how stifling it is fill the air. We smile and encourage each other on, dirty jokes and friendly "pats" not withstanding. As we all file in to the main hallway and onstage, the Supers and Childrens' Chorus swarm up from the basement creating a melding of people, all dressed and ready for Christmas Eve in Paris 1800-and-something. I slip out to onstage, since my shopping basket is sitting out on the prop table for me. The children are lined up right in font of the door, just in between the prop table and where a very large piece of set will go during the scene change. I walk around their double line, and meet Ned, the Prop Master on the other side of the table. "How's it goin', Ned?" I whisper. "Like Hell," he grumbles as he walks away. A good night, then. I pick up my basket as I look at the choristers dressed up as vendors around me. Sandra, the crass one, is selling books and scrolls. Matt has music instruments, including a french horn and music scrolls. There's also a Sweets and Treats vendor, who's wares look remarkable from the audience. He has licorice sticks, chocolates, cakes, wrapped surprises, and fondant up the ass. There's a bird vendor, who carries around a 15-foot pole with 8 wicker birdcages, ranging from doves to finches and a very small parrot. Don't know what the parrot's going to be doing in Paris in mid-winter, but he seems to be doing fine. There's a fruit vendor, a fish vendor (who we're NOT supposed to buy anything from), a miller (Ava, who sits next to me in the dressing room), and various others that I never get around to.

As the tenor and the soprano finish the scene, the tenor almost gets up to his note tonight, we wait patiently for the chaos to start around us as the scene change starts. Act 1 takes place in Rodolfo's rooftop garret apartment, while Act 2 happens in the streets of the Latin Quarter of Paris. I am always eager to see the change happen, having been a stage hand for many years of my life, and still a stage manager now. The stage goes dark, the main comes in and the work lights illuminate the hands already dashing to do their jobs. The raked stage breaks into a front half, and two back halves that split to each side of the stage. The front gets moved farther downstage and put on a slight slant, as the two sides are rushed off. The immense skylight, that spans 30-ft tall by 50-ft wide, and theoretically covers the entire ceiling of the apartment, is unhooked from its 30-degree slant, and flown to the rafters of the theatre by the riggers. As the skylight gets flown out, another rigger brings in the street lights of Cafe Momus. They are large, lit globes encased in wrought iron and adorned with holly and bows. A set of three downstage, and three upstage, "inside" the cafe. Because of the perception of the set, the upstage set are only half-globes. The backdrops are flown in, then, each designed like the Toulouse-Lautrec advertisements. They are huge ads, each depicting a woman selling Cafe Momus, or Street Momus, or the Theatre Momus, where Musetta, a can-can - type girl performs. Meanwhile, the stage hands run on an additional side piece to replace one of the ones they split from the downstage rake. It goes on the stage right side and has backstage door to Theatre Momus, up a set of stairs on it. There are stairs that go offstage as an entrance and exit for the performers upstage center of the whole set. Cafe Momus is on the flat ground, the actual Cafe behind the rake, while the outside, patio seating on the downstage rake. There are tables set, and a chestnut cart rolled in, and then we get the ok to start walking onstage.

I take two steps to get onstage when, "STOP!" yells Ned. "Carrie, don't tell these people to go! I haven't finished rolling on this cart!!" I look to my left, and said Ned is behind a large, 8 foot dolly-cart, waiting to push it onstage. I quickly take a leap back to where I was (and onto my train), and assume the look of abject abasement, even though I know it's not my fault. The cart is laden with plates of fake food, a breakable plate, and some real food, including mashed taters that smell FANTASTIQUE!! Ned grumbles as he rolls the cart past, and Carrie issues a hasty apology. We look around, and get another ok to get onstage. The children are placed first, then the vendors, followed by everyone else, including me. I look around to appreciate the splendour of opera around me. A smile comes to my heavily make-up'd face. I love opera. "FREEZE!!" we hear. And we all assume the poses we've chosen to take. Some are parents who are about to grab their children, others are making a purchase, still others, myself included, are paying attention to the very cute Matthew Cullen centerstage on a box, who is about to throw two handfuls of glittery confetti into the air as the orchestra starts. Except I'm trying not to drool. My chosen pose is mid clap at the confetti, strategically placed so I can stare at the cute Cullen boy. The stage lights change, the orchestra starts, and the curtain rises. Immediate applause and cheers great our "frozen" faces. A few choristers break character to smile to themselves, it's the first night we're in front of an audience, and it feels good to know we look good. I don't break. I knew that this opening scene looked really good from the start, and that they'll open the curtain every night to applause.

The glitter flies as we sing our first chord, still frozen, and falls through the short, 8-bar intro . And we come alive.




After we leave the stage, people are ripping off clothing as they climb the stairs, eager to get out of the sweaty garments. It takes less than 5 minutes for the women of my dressing room to take their dresses off, which is incredible since it took over 20 to get everything on. There's more talking and chattering, tittering and giggles. I fly out of my corset and downstairs to get my Hat and wig off. Two of the greatest things on in the world, in no particular order are getting a corset off and getting a wig taken off. I relish the change, and sit at my station, back up the two (technically three) flights of stairs, happy to be bra-less and to have just come from the stage. I start to take my pin curls out and let them air dry in their little twists. We are all giddy, almost silly with joy at reaffirming why we sing. Act 3 is almost about to start, and we are called back to the stage for our tavern singing. Because we are all offstage for this part, 90% of the chorus is back in their street clothes, the other 10% have changed into their Act 3 costumes, as they have small solos or walk across the stage. I walk into the wing where the other altos have been placed with my fake dreads in. People smile and want to touch them, and I tell them they can, but not to untwist them. There are 7 women who have been given glasses and silverware to clink, since we are supposed to be in a tavern making a toast. I, thankfully, have not been bestowed with this responsibility, as my mouth and hand coordination leaves something to be desired. We hear our cue and sing boisterously. The costumed people walk to their places onstage as we have a last cue, the "Ohplah!"'s. They are silly and stupid. Really stupid. So we make them sound thus. It's fun, and the conductor hasn't said anything. Todd, the chorus master, who is directly in front of us, shakes his head and cusses at us, but doesn't tell us to change, which just makes it worse (read: more fun).

When we finish and walk upstairs to our dressing room for the last time that night, there is exhaustion painted on every face. Even though our call was only for 3 hours, and it is a mere 8:30 P.M., the heavy costumes and stairs have a way of weighing on a person. I take out my faux-dreads to release my partially dried curly hair. It is FULL of the tiniest curls, made even tighter by their being twisted and dried in pin curls. I run my fingers gleefully through my hair, just before pinning it half-up-half-down away from my face. We pack our things together, put the make-up kits neatly at our stations, push the chairs in and turn off the lights and fans as we walk out and down the stairs. I say goodbye to Gina, the guard at the stage door as I walk past, and into the brisk San Diego night. I think it is going to be very cold later, and instinctively pull my coat tighter around me. The sky is clear, with few clouds and, despite being in the middle of the city, full of stars. The high rise buildings loom over me as I walk back to the Civic Center and to the elevators where, at P1, my car waits for me to go home. I am happy and satisfied. "Good night, ladies," I call to the women I've walked with. "See you Saturday!" We all smile and wave goodbye to each other. It was a good final dress. I love opera.

Student Dress at SDO

PART ONE  

I say "Hey!" and "Hello!" and "How ya' doin'"'s to the various backstage people I come across. The costume personnel are some of my favorite people, as well as the make-up crew and the stagehands: they have stories up the wazoo about everyone and everything. As I pass through the small hallway, I look at the posters that advertise the past shows, with pictures and signatures adorning the framed collage. "Kiss Me, Kate," "Dosholvy Ballet," "Jesus Christ Superstar," "San Diego Opera 1997," "Oliver!" and "Sweet Charity" line the walls everywhere. I recognize most of the names, and file others away to look up at a later time. As I round the corner and climb the 15 stairs to my dressing room, the humming of the "OFF LIMITS!!" vending machines greet me, filled with snacks, treats and goodies that are STRICTLY off limits when in costume. I smile as I read the intimidating sign taped to the glass in hot pink spike tape, "DO NOT eat OR drink in costume!!" I think it's funny. Most people abide by it. Most.


I turn into my dressing room (second door on the left) which I share with 5 other choristers, three of which I know very well, the other two, well... not my type of people, but nice girls nonetheless. The costumes sit patiently for us to don them in nooks on the left, with spaces for fabulous hats on top. My costume, "blk/white check w/blk velvet cuff/lapel" jacket and skirt, hangs just behind my station and to the right. I do like my costume (I have yet to DISlike a costume), and I appreciate the silver brocade bodice that has white and crystal buttons from top to bottom. I check the front of the bodice as I strew my things haphazardly. They DID get the lipstick I accidentally smeared on the front off. (SORRY!!) I was so devastated about it. :( Thankfully, none of the Perfect-For-My-Complexion!! "Natural Brown LS-12" remains to be seen on it's beautiful satiny silver self. I was SO sad to get it on!! But, like I said, I love the costume crew! :)

The chorus starts to filter in slowly, about ten minutes after I arrive, and chats happily amongst themselves as they start to prep for tonight's Student Dress. I've already wet and brush my hair to put it in tight pin-curls. I really like my wig, and I LOVE my hat! "Best friggin' hat in the show!! HA!" I say to myself giddily. I really do like my hat, all black with netting, black and grey roses and mountains of feathers adorn it like some ostrich hiding in a dead rosebush. Too fabulous for words. :) I put the wig cap on, sliding it back above my hairline and pin it to the six or seven pin curls I just put in. My make-up kit, with said "Natural Brown LS-12," is a pencil box, like the ones from elementary school, and has my name on it with a tiny "B" beside my name, to stand for the show that I am contracted for this season, "La Boheme." In it, I find more things than I know what to do with. Aside from a very scratchy sponge that I'm supposed to apply the base with, there are three blush brushes (no, I don't know why), an angle brush, an eyeliner brush, and a "short round" brush whose bristles are frankly too long to do anything constructive with. There's three shades of brown pressed eye shadow, a cream color for highlighting, a rosy pink blush, black dry cake that I use for eyeliner, and two types of lipstick, one in a little unlabled container and beautiful "Natural Brown LS-12." I start to apply the make up while listening to my "Crowd Pleasers" iTunes Mix that includes Fitzgerald, Holiday, Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney (MY GIRL!!), The McGuire Sisters, The Crew Cuts, Dean Martin, Tommy Dorsey, and quite a few others. I like putting it on because everybody seems to like the good ol' types of music. And putting on opera music while being in an opera is a little overkill. The dressing room lights that everyone has on start to warm up the room quickly, and the chatter with the music fill the air with a sense of comraderie and glamor. There's nothing like getting ready for a show and listening to Ella.

Unlike EVERY SINGLE other night, I remember tonight to put on my black stockings and black, lace-up boots first, BEFORE getting in my corset, which I have my dresser, Debbie lace me in very tightly. I am proud. :) I put my petticoat on next, then go downstairs to the basement to get my wig and Fabulous Hat put on. By this point, the entire cast and crew are here, and the hallways and dressing rooms are filled with the loud laughter and chatter of people who are excited to put on the full show. In the basement underneath the stage, and two floors beneath my dressing table, the Childrens' Chorus and Supernumeraries are in with the hair and make-up crew. I say hello to Alex, my twelve-year-old child for this show. She is still complaining that she doesn't like her hat. I say that I like it. She looks like she should belong in the movie, "Newsies." The other children ask what I'm wearing, and I explain that it's a corset. One says, "Oh, I wish I could wear a corset." Oh, you'll learn I think to myself. I tell her that most people don't like wearing them, but I don't mind. I actually like wearing corsets. And it's true. Don't ask me why... Six Hair/M-U stations are available, and Peter, the Lead Hair/M-U guy greets me pleasantly. We ask each other about our day, and joke about the divas in the chorus. I give him my wig head that I've grabbed on my way in, and hold Fabulous Hat in my lap as he gently places the brunette Up-Do on my wig cap. I can tell I've done a good job tonight with putting my my pin curls in close to my head, the wig fits a little loosely, and Peter pins it in tight. He compliments me on The Hat, and I vehemently proclaim that it is The Best Hat in the show... next to Musetta's of course. :) He sends me scurrying back to my dressing room, since they are busy downstairs, with a smile and well wished broken legs for tonight's performance.

After the two story climb back up to my dressing room (all 40 stairs, no it's not fun), I collapse into my seat in my indecent underwear (skirt, petticoat and stockings), and wait for the other choristers to finish their hustle and bustle of getting their costumes on, and to catch my breath. There are coquettes, and Mme. Renards, and Ladies of the Town, here, all getting ready to get their final Christmas Eve shopping done. I don't like throwing myself or my clothes everywhere while people are trying to get themselves dressed. After a couple of minutes, the other choristers traipse downstairs for their wigs and hats. I check my make-up, just to make sure that everything is in place, and start to put the rest of my costume on. The bum roll comes first, a quilted lacy thing to make my butt look larger and to kick out my train a bit, then the floor-length with a train skirt made from the same material as my jacket, the beautiful, silver non-lipsticked bodice, and polyester lavender/grey-ish gloves that go on BEFORE the jacket with black velvet around the four-collar and sleeve cuffs that have two large buttons that don't button, but snap together. I can put all of my costume on myself, aside from the corset, which is better than a lot of the chorus women.

As the five ladies file back into the room, I have already established myself on my computer and the pilfered internet in order to cool myself off. It is very hot underneath all the wool and cotton and the dressing room table lights, but I've turned my station lights off, and have been sitting, getting used to the weight and temperature of my costume. I'll be fine like this for the next 30 minutes until we're called onstage.

More once the opera starts...