Why We Attend, Support, and Encourage our Very Local Opera Productions
The furnishings are cobbled together from old sheets and paint, and left-overs of multiple people's moves. The props come from various garage sales and cast & crew's homes. Costumes are pieced together from various cast member's closets. The orchestra is a piano - maybe two.
The chorus's singing is uneven. The lead's are cast from the current pot of local, aspiring opera singers. Ages and abilities vary. The soprano is over 40 and gloriously coming into her prime. The tenor is young and still choking on his music. The baritone is even younger and has no idea what to do with his hands. The mezzo is bitter or hopeful depending on life experience.
The stage director is paid. The music director is paid. The chorus is not paid. The leads get an honorarium, maybe 75$ per performance which doesn't begin to cover the expense of the privilege of participating. The argument that this will look good on a resume holds no water.
It costs $20 to $35 to attend. And IT IS VERY IMPORTANT that we Attend, Support, and Encourage the singers in these productions.
This is the workshop for aspiring actor/singers. This very local opera production is where they coordinate their in-studio work with the new stimuli of working on stage.
This is where singers learn to negotiate the stage itself with doorways and chairs, lights in the eyes and edges that drop off. There's a conductor and those lights in the eyes again - blurring the conductor's subtle facial cues, if any. There's movement in their peripheral vision. There are other singers and if they are lucky, a stage hand who may or may not be brand new to the job. There's figuring out how to get from here to there in the right amount of time. There's pouring a pitcher of water with no water in it. There's learning a movement that goes with a particular phrase of music and then having it changed, and changed, and changed over the course of 3 rehearsals. There's the question of which way to face and where to stand, and then there's the on-the-fly adjustment when the other singer stands in the wrong place, or sings the wrong cue, or doesn't give a cue at all. There's not being able to hear the piano which gives the rhythmic impulse, or worse yet, there's a conductor's hand waving out of sync with the delayed sound of the piano in the hall. Over-riding the ears and coordinating that delay is in and of itself an enormous task and not one to be tried out in an artists's first orchestral performance before a larger audience.
All of these coordinations will be accomplished with greater or lesser alacrity and skill, depending on personality, experience, and circumstances of the performance. These very local opera companies do not have the budget for six months of rehearsals in order to get just the coordination of stage work together. As a matter of fact, their world class counterparts only give a few rehearsal as rapid coordination is expected of their professional singers. And where would this professional level of coordination have been honed? In very local opera companies, of course.
And there's MORE.
We as audience members are the ultimate stimulus to be coordinated into a singer's performance. The physical tension of coordinating new stimuli will interfere with all the vocal technique that has been learned. Voices will crack at the top or lose focus in the middle. Words will be jumbled or lost entirely. The natural chemical load from nerves come into play. It wreaks havoc with the muscles that coordinate singing.
Imagine yourself having to get up to give a public presentation. Your breath becomes short. Your diaphragmatic muscles tighten - the exact opposite of the flexibility you would need if you were a singer. Your limbic brain sends out the chemicals readying you for a fight or a race with a saber-toothed tiger, cutting off all access to active memory or language. Fortunately you have your speaker's notes, your pointer and your microphone. You may even be able to tell your audience you are nervous. Singers on stage have none of these. This is perhaps the ultimate coordination needed by an actor/singer. They need us, the audience, to work through this.
We will witness what seem like failure to us. A cracked high note may be painful for our ears and souls - we so want that elevated culmination for ourselves - and yet that singer will have negotiated the fear of an audience and over-ridden the chemicals that make us lose our memory.
We audience members were there. We were the ones who made it possible for that singer to coordinate the next stimulus.
The vast majority of the people we witness will go no further. They will find the stress of the effort too much, or their instrument is not what they hoped it would be, or they find other more fascinating pursuits. Life circumstances will take them far away from this endeavor. A very few will go on, refining their coordination until their performances are world class and pleasing to millions. We will have been there at the inception. We will have contributed to their success.
Monica Schober 2015
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