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The Opera


"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.


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