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Falstaff: Even more mischief


Never a dull moment, part 2 of an apparently ongoing series

I spent part of last week frantically searching for a last-minute replacement for one of our principal wind players, who had to leave the country for an extremely pressing family emergency. We also found ourselves short a string principal on opening night, a development which happened at the eleventh hour, and for a similarly pressing reason. As Mo. Manahan and I chatted in the hallway before Friday's opening, he wondered, "What is this, Macbeth?!"


All of this is to say: it's been a very long week. I swear at some point I'll tell you what the music librarian conference was like. In the meantime, a prize goes to the person who can come up with the best collective noun for a group of music librarians. Some inspiration: it's been suggested that a group of regular librarians should be called 'a hush of librarians' (or 'a shush of librarians').


Now, the last onstage installment from super Diana Harris.



Monday, May 6: Orchestra Dress #1


make-up room

So, here's the routine: you have a make-up call and must initial the sign-in sheet at or before your assigned time. I'm the last face Vonda does, because I don't go on stage until well into the second part. All chorus members, basket-men, pages, and innkeeper (who are also supers) get made up before me.


wig room

I go across the hall to the wig room, retrieve my wig—it's the one in the foreground, on the top shelf—and sit in Patty's chair. That little black shape that looks like a goatee is the cap she stretches over my hair, pinning it firmly in place. Then she pins the wig to the cap. In case you're wondering, they use "toupee tape" on men with shaved heads, sticking the wigs tight to bare scalps.


petticoat and hip roll

Kathy is the dresser who helps us into our complicated costumes: petticoat, hip-roll, dress and shoes. Now we wait. There's no audience tonight; once we're ready, we can sit in the auditorium, in costume, to watch the rest of the first half of the opera. After the break, we find Kathy and look for masks and whips. The shelf with the masks has moved; I find it—then I can't find Kathy and Carole among all the stagehands, chorus members, stage managers, dressers, and cast members backstage. I go back up to our dressing room on the third floor. They're not there. Down again, stage right, I finally see Kathy with my cape and scarf. They were over on stage left, getting Carole's whip. But I'm still ready on time. Whew!


It's more exciting with full orchestra, but more difficult to hear the words. I'm almost in position when Pistola and Bardolfo sing "Di' che ti penti!" ("Say that you repent!). Since the director told me to stretch out and lay into the strokes, it works.


Wednesday, May 8: Final Dress Rehearsal—A good audience tonight: student groups, friends of performers, and others. Once in costume, Carole and I watch from an unobtrusive backstage corner. The music is wonderful and the cast seems more animated with, as they say, a "bigger house." The audience laughs and applauds in all the right places. Kathy, Carole, and I also are in the right place when it's time to put on masks, scarves, and capes. Think about this: we have to get them on just right because we can't fidget with our clothes when we're on stage. Not. At. All. It seems easier to edge out when Falstaff kneels; as the principals finish their little business and step back, I move forward. I'm not quite ready for the first stroke on "Di' che ti penti!"—but close.


Friday, May 10: Opening Night—My husband drops me off early, on his way to pick up his "date," a friend of ours who sits in my regular seat. I find a stool by the prop table on stage left; I'm quite out of the way and I have a very good view of the action on stage. Carole finds me there once she's ready. The house is full and responsive: electricity's in the air. I watch Jennifer Hammontree, production stage manager, before moving into position for our cue. She—and the two assistant stage managers—work from scores that are annotated with absolutely every detail of every action. She speaks in a soft voice, cuing everything: dry ice, lighting, principals, chorus, basket-men, innkeeper, special props—and it all happens. Our little bit goes well, but my husband has a "note" for me after the show. "You need to turn away decisively," he says, "don't just back off." OK, I'll try it.


door to backstage-right


Sunday, May 12: Matinee performance—Carole thought she came out too early on Friday, but the chorus member who's been cuing her said that she should simply look eager to start thrashing Falstaff and not worry about it—which is similar to my husband's recommendation. Their suggestions work: when I turn smartly, I merge better with the moving chorus; Carole feels more comfortable as she moves toward Falstaff. Once back with the others, I am relaxed enough to watch the conductor and see that all seats in the front orchestra rows were occupied. It's so much fun we're sorry there are only two more performances: Thursday and Saturday.


A big, big thanks to Diana for this series of posts!


For more about Portland Opera's Falstaff, head on over here.

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