One thing that's different this time around is that I find myself giving my opinion about stuff. And the funny thing is, people have actually been asking for it. In school they pound into your head that it's not your job to worry about what your colleagues are doing, just focus on what you are doing. And that is totally true. But now that I'm doing this for the 8th time, I find myself in the unique position of having some perspective on this show and on this role, for whatever it's worth. And that maybe, just maybe my experience (and the experience of others in the cast who are repeat offenders of Nozze) might help our cause here and there. It's a big step for me. Normally I would shut my mouth and just do my job, but I find myself offering more of my own ideas this time around. I hope it's not annoying. I don't think it is. It sort of reminds me of a Chekhov class I took at CCM. We had this exercise we did for months where started each class by standing in a circle and throwing balls to each other. it was an exercise of focus, openness, and radiating. We sometimes got 5 or 6 going before anyone dropped one. Part of being successful in the exercise was taking care of yourself on one level, but also taking care of the group. You take more responsibility when you take care of the group. That's what I'm finding here. Or maybe I'm just being an ass. Either way, it says a lot about the atmosphere at The Skylight that I can even think about this collaborative spirit.
I've told a few of my Figaro war stories, from playing guitar during the accompanied recit of 'se vuol ballare' (I am a golden god!!) to Opera Workshop way back at UMD (hug & twirl extrodinaire), but this one has got to be my favorite. The reason it comes to mind is that it was sort of the opposite of what I was talking about in the previous paragraph. In this show, I basically only focused on myself because, well, that's all I could do.
It was long about the summer of 1999. I was doing a music/language program in Lucca, Italy in conjunction with CCM, which was where I was going to grad school. We took Italian class every day and put on concerts, operas, etc. I was cast as Figaro in the workshop production of Nozze. 'Workshop' means there was no budget, no set, no costumes, no nuttin. No orchestra either- we used the wind quintet arrangement (which I later repeated in Cleveland, and here again in Milwaukee).
How can I say this next part diplomatically? Let's just say the level of preparation between cast members was, um, uneven. Hey- I get it. We're in Italy, who wants to study a score? But this was scary. I was mortified and to help deal with my stress I studied the crap out of my score. I figured if people didn't know their stuff I would know it extra well. It sort of helped, but my dear friend Tanya told me later that I was a total weirdo all summer long and had a crazy look in my eye. She was right. Did I mention that one of our cast members was mentally challenged? That's not documented, but I'm positive of it. Positive.
Argh. So we trudge through rehearsal. The director is incredibly good-humored and patient. The Maestro is mostly out to lunch. I mean literally- he would show up an hour late to rehearsals sometimes. And, speaking of uneven prep. Yikes! He was all over the place- but that's another blog post (probably not a good career move to trash talk a conductor in your blog). As we inch toward putting this show on, it slowly and miraculously comes together and all parties become more or less comfy with their respective parts. We're ready to open.
We have two scheduled performances. The first is outside of town at Villa Bellosguardo, the estate belonging to the Enrico Caruso family. Meanwhile, we have been rehearsing our show at an outdoor venue inside of Lucca proper. But we get in a bus early in the morning, drive to Bellosguardo, get a tour of the estate, and start talking about the show. It is so surreal, because my Italian is so crappy I can hardly understand what our hosts are telling us. For a few minutes, I wondered if anyone had told them that we were planning to do an opera that night. It seemed when we got there that we were just going to maybe have a tour and some prosciutto and be on our merry way. I mean, it's Italy- these things happen. But no, indeed, we were scheduled to perform.
Our 'stage' for Acts I, II, and III was a grassy hill. There was a stone wall with stone stairs going down to a lower terrace. The staircase was our only entrance on or off 'stage.' PS- there was no stage, only grass. To get back'stage' from the house (where our dressing area was), you had to walk behind the audience, all the way to the bottom of the hill, around the stone wall, and up the stairs. So what I'm saying is that you had to plan for it. Well....we may have had a mishap with that. One or more cast members may have missed an entrance because of that crazy stone wall. One person just chose to creep in through the audience. Not a bad move- pretty smart, actually, especially considering he was the mentally challenged guy. The other entrance was completely missed and our poor Susanna had to sing the "Aprite presto aprite" duet as a solo number.
Basically, our show just completely unraveled before our director's eyes. We made up for it (or tried) in Act IV, which took place in the Bellosguardo gardens. There is not a more perfect place to do Act IV. There were statues, topiaries, trees, and ample hiding places for all the Finale mischief. Act IV hung together really well, and I think we ended strong. And the audience seemed to be really into it (I have no idea who these people were or how they knew we were doing this show).
I forgot to mention the best part!!! Our 'lights' for this outdoor extravaganza was a huge glowing balloon that floated in midair above us. Seriously. Missed entrances, glowing balls, cats and dogs, living together. Mass hysteria!
Speaking of dogs, something they fed us for dinner that evening did NOT sit well with about 70% of the cast. I think (I hope) it was rabbit. Anyway, it was a rough few days for me after that. My stomach was a MESS.
Blah blah- anyway, our director was so disheartened he left town before our second performance. That was a tough blow for us. I mean, what did he expect? We rehearse a show for 4 weeks at one venue, and then travel to a completely new place and try to restage it in an afternoon? When people have only recently memorized their parts? It's a recipe for disaster. And it was. Except for Act IV.
So we get back to Lucca and get ready for our closing show. And it went superbly. I mean, everything that went wrong in the first one went right in the second one, and we were vindicated. It was a great night.
Thanks for sticking with me this far. That was all a preamble for this, the real story. The morning after our closing show, my friend and roomate Brad was leaving town to do some traveling around Europe. I had had a great summer with him and wanted to see him off, so I got up early to walk him to the train station. So here we are, on the cobblestone streets of Tuscany, early on a gorgeous Sunday morning, not a soul in sight except the two of us. Then some random guy on a rickety old bike scoots by us and as he passes he looks at me and says, "Ehi Figaro!"
Brad turns to me and says, "You gotta admit, that's pretty cool."
Pretty cool? Pretty cool? It put an amazingly poignant cap on what was a crazy summer of ups and downs. I felt like all the extra time I spent studying and going through my staging on my own, and worrying about our show, and bitching about it with my colleagues, and stressing were all rewarded by one crazy Italian dude. It was one of the best ovations I've ever gotten.
I can't talk about Lucca without mentioning one other thing. Every day between Italian class and rehearsal, I would walk by a little jewelry shop and look in the window. There was a modest little white gold ring in the window that caught my eye, and kept me coming back. One day I asked my good friend Tanya if she would go there with me to look at it because I was thinking of buying it for my other good friend Erika. Tan had this crazy notion that if the ring fit on her pinky, then it would probably fit on Erika's ring finger- she was totally right! I thought maybe I would buy the ring and propose to Erika at Christmas time or something. Tanya said I would never last that long. She was right about that too. I asked her as soon as I got off the plane.
So that was Lucca for me: Figaro, Figaro, and more Figaro, tiramisu on the wall, studying like a fiend, acting like a weirdo, tearing up my intestines with a rabbit, disappointing directors, winning over audience members, and buying an engagement ring for my best friend, partner, and confidant. Not too shabby.