Operaddict: Inside An Opera Rehearsal

Which famous diva took one year to learn an operatic role?

Peach State Opera is not a repertory company where ensemble singers sing multiple roles. They hold open auditions each season and cast the productions scheduled after hearing the singers who apply. There are a handful of repertory opera companies in the US and only a few in Scandinavia. 

Most singers today fly in, rehearse, perform, and fly out to another engagement.  When the casting is done Peach State opera’s artistic director, Evelyn Hughes, schedules the musical rehearsals in consultation with the director Tamara Harper. 

Due to circumstances beyond their control, Peach State had to scurry and find rehearsal space for their first rehearsals for Figaro which were scheduled to begin at the first of July.  Fortunately, a local Presbyterian Church allowed them to use their sanctuary until they could return to their usual facility. 

If you’ve ever seen a group of actors sitting around with scripts doing a first read through of a script for a play or TV program, just substitute singers  in front of music stands and you have the same scene at a first opera rehearsal.  It is expected of professional opera singers that they report to the first musical rehearsal with the music learned and in most cases memorized.  After the first run through, the musical director assesses who has the score down and who must be urged to get with a vocal coach to work on learning the music. Hopefully, with the second musical run through; the singers know the score. ( attached video of process)

The next step is staging the opera where the director Tamara Harper blocks the scenes and directs the singers where to stand and if necessary makes suggestions for elements that can enhance each singer’s characterization. Today’s opera singer must not just be vocally and technically proficient, but must be what is referred to as a singing actor.  This ability is expected of all world class singers.  Two of today’s prominent operatic stars who exemplify this art are the Welsh singer Bryn Terfel and the French soprano Natalie Dessay. (see attached You Tube videos.)

The final musical rehearsal for Peach State Opera will concentrate on the recitatives, which are similar to the spoken dialogue of a play and propel the storyline between set musical numbers (arias and ensembles). This musical convention enhances the comprehension and pacing of the story at hand  and requires great skill from the singers.

Kiri te Kanawa, the New Zealand soprano famous for her role as the Countess Almaviva in Figaro, remembers in her autobiography that “Covent Garden took me by the scruff of my neck, bunged me into a room and locked me away for a year. Jeffrey Tate, who was a repetiteur (coach) taught me my part day after day. I scarcely saw the light of day. This was the only time I ever learned a role absolutely thoroughly.”  She also shares her trepidation with the recitatives which she proclaimed to hate. She finally made her peace with them and worked to love these elements so prevalent in Mozart’s operas.

In the next installment of my blog,  I will give you a synopsis of the plot of The Marriage of Figaro and let you meet some of the singers cast by Peach State Opera to bring this opera’s various characters to life .  

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