Monday, October 24, 2005
Norma Opens Part One: The Basement
The employee areas of luxury hotels are incredibly shabby and utilitarian, with exposed piping and vents that contrast mightily with the deluxe detailing of the guest areas, and the same is true of most live theaters.
The San Francisco Opera is no exception, with most of the employees relegated to the basement.
The chorus, orchestra, dressers, makeup and wig people, and the supernumeraries all mingle here...
...in various states of dress and undress.
My favorite thing about the basement is that there have been additions over the years, and they don't make a lot of architectural sense, so that even after 15 years hanging out here, I still get lost.
Just like the opera house itself, the place has some Serious Vibes where you can almost sense the glories and disasters that have taken place to various souls here over the years.
Plus there are secret areas galore, like this sub-basement which is deeply scary and has a secret passageway to the Veterans' building across the parkway.
The dressing rooms are presided over by the professional dressers, including my neighbor Phil.
One of the coolest people in the entire opera house is Bert, still working at age 82.
The first thing you do as a supernumerary is put on a distressed, flesh-colored T-shirt and then put on a makeup base all over your face and neck.
The second thing you do is walk down another hallway to the makeup room where a legion of artists wants to know if you start off the opera as a Celtic Warrior or a Roman Soldier.
EJ is a Roman soldier, who climbs up the ugly set with me in the second scene of the opera as we pretend we're hauling down a murdered comrade who is actually hooked up to a wire that is slowly lowered.
Lucas plays the Dead Roman more gruesomely with each repetition.
The production of "Norma" itself has been troubled throughout, with the singer who had been rehearsing Adalgisa for the entire last month being fired and replaced with a Russian diva at the final dress rehearsal, without explanation.
The tenor role in "Norma" is really difficult and completely thankless since the two sopranos get all the attention, but the Belgrade tenor Zoran was sounding pretty good. However, he pulled something during the dress rehearsal that, even in all the years of bizarre behavior onstage, I've never seen before.
Norma and her Roman lover Pollione are supposed to be finally reunited in love, honor and respect for each other as they take each other's hands and go to the bonfire to be immolated together in the final measures of the opera. At the dress rehearsal, however, he didn't even look at Norma during this moment and walked downstage as far as he could go, singing as loud as he could during the musical finale.
Poor Norma was stuck halfway up the stage, not sure what to do. He ignored her completely and finally started sauntering back upstage just as the curtain came down right on his head. Like I said, I've never seen THAT before.
Finally, it was time to go out and be "forceful, masculine, ferocious" as our director had instructed us. It was the opening of the show.