Friday, December 6, 2013


The scene we saw in rehearsal (source)
In the final exciting instalment of a weekend of opera in New York City -- a peek backstage on a Monday morning, courtesy of a wonderful new friend with a dream job behind the scenes of one of the world's greatest opera houses. She escorted us on a tour of the prop room, the costume department, the wig maker's domain; we threaded our way through carpenters and sopranos and harps in cases; we peeked at the famous auditorium from the orchestra pit; we bumped into and said 'hi' to Peter Gelb, the head man of The Met himself. Read about life backstage at the opera company here.

Tom Watson, wig-maker.
Tom Watson is the wig maker at The Met (and moonlights on Broadway):
With a healthy head of hair, [some singers need] no wig fitting. Just in case, the Met’s wig department has head moulds of roughly 75 singers. “If we know who’s coming in, sometimes I can pull their head off,” and fashion a hairpiece quickly, the Met’s wig master, Tom Watson, said with macabre shorthand. (source)
And then to the auditorium to watch an hour or so of a piano rehearsal of Verdi's 'Falstaff '- with none other than the revered James Levine conducting from the podium (in his new wheelchair). We sat a couple of rows from the front, with a great view into the pit and up onto the stage. An opera-lover's heaven. This is The Met’s first new ‘Falstaff’ since 1964 (they like to squeeze the lemons dry at The Met). From the little I saw of it, it will be worth the wait.

The Falstaff in this production is Italian Ambrogio Maestri, who apparently speaks only Italian. The English director Robert Carson fortunately is fluent in Italian (most people running around backstage in an opera house are multi-lingual, it seems!) The piano rehearsal is the director's domain - where he directs the cast in their acting and staging and so on. At the next rehearsal, the orchestra rehearsal, the conductor takes over and the music is all-important. At this piano rehearsal, they were trying out one of the final scenes which involves a huge chorus augmented by actors. There's lots of fake smoke and everyone wears antlers and cloaks, and people are pushed around on rolling tables - chaos! But brought together so expertly by the consummate professionals involved (with just a little bit of sniping between the director and the chorus-master, who clearly was anxious to look after "his" chorus).

As for Signore Maestri, he's a fine figure of a Falstaff, ably supported by some other very fine figures, including the incredible voice of Stephanie Blythe as Mistress Quickly. It's worth checking out Signore maestri's website - he demonstrates Italian cooking!

Read a synopsis of the story of Falstaff here.

It was brilliant. My only regret - and it's a severe one - is that I won't get to see the full performance. But it is being broadcast on The Met's HD cinema program...hmmm...

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