Wednesday, July 04, 2012
It's Washington's Birthday, Washington's Birthday
Well, that was some kind of fun.
After a four-month contract job in Silicon Valley ended, I was ready to embark on a new adventure, and fate happily intervened through an email from the San Francisco Opera asking if I wanted to be a supernumerary in the John Adams opera Nixon in China, followed by a rehearsal schedule that was essentially every day for the month of May. The immediate answer was "yes, yes and yes," because the music to this opera has been on my favorites list since it was first recorded 25 years ago.
There were sixteen supernumeraries, evenly divided by gender, with all four real Asians on the female side. Those four turned out to be part of the serious joy of this production, and being a unisex People's Army Soldier with them in matching overcoat, belt, combat boots, and fur hat erased any qualms about the Jonathan Pryce Miss Saigon minstrel show aspect of appearing as a Chinese dude onstage.
One of the Asian supers turned out to be a bestselling novelist out of Bernal Heights, Tess Uriza Holthe (above right with Veronique), who was researching the opera for her next novel, and lucked out in being slotted into this production as her first time onstage. Click here for her account of the experience at the San Francisco Opera Backstage blog.
Live theater, and opera is live theater at its most ambitious and extreme, has an alchemical element to it. Sometimes the combination of forces is magical and sometimes it's inert. San Francisco Opera got very lucky with its first production of Nixon in China, partly through General Director David Gockley's almost perfect casting, and partly just because everyone melded during this production in a manner that's rare, from orchestra to chorus to principals to dancers to stage crew to extras.
And of course it was also great because the The Three Ancient Supers in the photo at top (Charlie Lichtman, Michael Harvey, and yours truly) are seemingly the good luck token of just about every wonderful modern opera production over the last 18 months in the Bay Area, from Orphee at the Herbst, Four Saints in Three Acts at Yerba Buena, to Nixon in China at the San Francisco Opera. This has been quite a run, Musketeers.