Tonight is opening night of Don Giovanni at Lyric Opera. I’m playing in the onstage banda, and I must say, it’s been FASCINATING to participate in this production.
I love playing opera. That’s old news to readers of this blog. Great composers have thrown their maximum energies at this medium, and some of the writing is just astounding. Playing in the orchestra pit, you have access to some amazing sounds and you collaborate with incredible artists and it’s a great experience. But working on the stage - even in the few tiny scenes that involve me - has been eye-opening. It’s no wonder that this art form has stolen the hearts of so many people. It’s no wonder that the budgets of large opera companies are almost inconceivably large and not shocking that some are struggling to stay in business.
My colleagues and I are onstage for a total of maybe eight minutes. We are at the very back of a very busy party, which devolves into an orgy. On a giant table in front of us there are many couples making out very actively. An audience member would have to know where we are and really, really LOOK to find us on the stage, even when we are playing, I think. In addition to this eight minutes of glory, we play twice from behind the stage in Act 1 and twice in Act 2. Maybe, all told, there’s fifteen minutes of oboe playing time from me, and most of it didn’t even have to be memorized.
And that said - two members of the wardrobe department measured me very carefully and thoroughly early in the summer. A month ago I came in for a forty-five minute costume fitting, in which I put on my VERY IMPRESSIVE costume and had no fewer than four members of the costume department, AND the costume designer herself, AND her assistant, applying pins, chalk markings, ripping seams, and really devoting themselves to making the costume look great on me and making sure that I could move, and play, and walk, and be comfortable. We had one four hour rehearsal on OUR music and staging. Remember that I play for 15 minutes at most, divided between the two acts. We had a run-through with the full cast and chorus. It lasted five hours. We had two more rehearsals with the wonderful Lyric Opera Orchestra present in the pit. We had a full dress rehearsal.
On the stage are dozens of people, all costumed as thoroughly as we are. I would say “more thoroughly”, because some of the costumes are SO stunning - but I don’t believe it. That would imply that somewhere along the line someone slacked off on my costume, and that I will never accept. We have a dedicated dressing room, and a dresser, who checks our costumes every night after we take them off. There are astonishing numbers of well-crafted props and sets and huge numbers of stagehands moving giant things around in amazingly precise ways. The cast - the principal singers - are astounding. There are people in charge of getting us onto the stage, and people in charge of helping us off. There is an intercom system that calls everyone to the stage in plenty of time to make their entrances. There are people watching us and giving us notes on our performance, every time so far. Did you catch that? In the midst of an orgy scene featuring dozens of chorus members, extras, and supers, and OH YES, the actual singers and an important plot point to get through, all accompanied by the untoppable music of Mozart - someone is watching the onstage banda at the very back and determining that we should move earlier or later to our position, or act more awed during the scene, or escape differently when the lady screams rape… It’s a phenomenal experience. It feels like the recession never happened. There’s just so much attention given to every detail - and no group that I work with has been able to apply this kind of attention to ANYTHING for YEARS.
So. No, don’t come to Lyric Opera this month to hear me. I’m having a blast, and doing my job well, but I am not the draw. But do come, and come over and over again, and support this opera company and your local opera company, and donate, and insist that these sorts of productions continue. This is art worth making.