Toreador-ah, don't spit on the floor

Use the cuspidor!

Whaddya think it's for?

I've started a new season in the chorus of the non-professional Toronto Opera Repertoire.  This year we're putting on Bizet's CARMEN and Rossini's LA CENERENTOLA. (In earlier seasons I've performed in LUCIA DI LAMERMOOR, DON GIOVANNI, THE ELIXIR OF LOVE, LA TRAVIATA and RIGOLETTO.  I skipped the seasons where we did THE BARBER OF SEVILLE and UN BALLO IN MASCHERA.  Not that they're bad operas, but I wasn't quite motivated enough by them.)

We learn to sing the choruses on Tuesdays in the fall, then in January we work out the staging on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, leading to 12 performances over three weeks in February. (At the beginning we do two dress rehearsals and four performances on six consecutive days!) The artistic director is Giuseppe Macina, who's been with the company for 40 years! As the performances get closer, you can see him getting more exercised.  His favorite expression is "Jesus Murphy!"

In the early months, to save time, the men go downstairs to learn their notes while the women learn upstairs.  It's embarrassing that they always learn faster than we do.  It's because we only have half a dozen tenors. (I'm a bass myself.) That means that when there are first-tenor and second-tenor parts, there are only three singers each, and it takes a while for them to achieve critical mass.

Last week we had an acting class to prepare us for being onstage.  As an exercise, we all imagined the individual character we were going to play in CARMEN.  I became Ferdinand Gonzalez, a Valencia peasant who joined the army for excitement but is bored by army life and preparing to desert and join a smuggling ring, which means I can be a soldier in the first scene and a smuggler in the later ones without being two different characters! (When we put on LUCIA DI LAMERMOOR, I imagined myself as a Scottish clansman who really didn't want to fight, but was afraid of looking like a coward in front of his relatives.)

Those acting classes are enjoyable.  When we put on LA TRAVIATA, we were given a sheet suggesting motivations for our character being at Violetta's party. ("You come to steal knick-knacks, either to sell them or out of spite....  You're homosexual, and they understand these things here....  You're Violetta's doctor's apprentice who's spent all day treating poor people at the Hotel Dieu, and now you get to see how the other half lives.")

These productions are also the first time I've got to know uncloseted gay men.


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The fundraiser

FearlessFreep's picture

Last Sunday the TOR put on its annual fundraiser. We performed several CARMEN and CENERENTOLA numbers, some with only soloists but others with the chorus too. (One particularly generous donor says the fundraiser is bigger than Christmas to him.)

What makes it especially fun is that choristers bring a wide range of refreshments for the reception afterward--cookies, fruit, cake, cheese, even pasta. (I baked my world-famous gingerbread again.) There's always quite a bit left over so people who stay till the end of the reception get to take away what we can carry.  I always grab a big variety of treats.


Opening night for CENERENTOLA!

FearlessFreep's picture

We've just performed the opening night for LA CENERENTOLA.  It's now "hell week," where we do two dress rehearsals and four performances in six days. (We do a total of twelve performances over three weeks.)

Two weeks ago, I got a bad cold and couldn't sing. (Too bad that I'm one of the experienced chorus members whom Giuseppe relies on to lead the others in singing.) But I still managed to attend rehearsals to learn where I move on the stage.  At least that's better than getting sick at performance time.

Everything's been a bit behind schedule.  In the fall we spent too much time learning CARMEN and had only a little time left to learn CENERENTOLA, whose choruses are often quick and challenging.  Last week we had an extra evening of rehearsal, which we really needed.  Almost everyone showed up and we did quite well.

For CENERENTOLA, the chorus is dressed as palace servants with bow ties, breeches, white knee socks and tails. (The women wear the same as the men!) We also attach buckles to black slippers to make them look old-fashioned, except that we don't have enough buckles to go around since the women are using them too.

You might expect these suits to look uniform, but the breeches come in endless colors--mine are purple. They have buttons on the inside, four on the front and two on the back, for attaching suspenders to.  The only problem with my costume was that the back buttons were missing.  I tried attaching the braces with safety pins and that got me through the dress rehearsal, but the pins sometimes got undone and jabbed me in the back.  Fortunately, they let me take the breeches home (normally against the rule) where my sister sewed on a new pair of buttons.  Problem solved!

Tomorrow night is the CARMEN dress rehearsal, and Friday is that opera's opening night!


Hell Week is over

FearlessFreep's picture

The CARMEN dress rehearsal was on Thursday.  The usual snafus happened, mainly one involving the men's costume change:  we're soldiers for the first act and the first part of the second and Gypsy smugglers for the third.  Unfortunately, the email we received didn't make it clear that we were supposed to change in the middle of the second act.  When we showed up for the last part of the second act still dressed as soldiers, Giuseppe had a fit. (A tip:  it's better to see a Toronto Opera Repertoire production after the first week, when we've straightened out our routine.) 

It opened Friday, and it's a hit:  we got almost 300 people for the Sunday afternoon performance! (CARMEN brings in the troopers.) The Friday audience had a bunch of high-schoolers, and after Yevgeny did the Toreador song, someone in the audience yelled "That was awesome!"

Our soldier costumes have Napoleonic-type shako helmets and circus-style chest thingies. (We adjusted the helmets to fit our heads by attaching weather stripping on the inside.) In the first act, when the new guard goes out to replace Don Jose's unit I draw a sword and lead them!  When I did it Sunday the sword almost came apart in my hand, though a miss is good as a mile.  Makes you appreciate people like Errol Flynn.

CENERENTOLA is a Rossini opera based on Cinderella. In this version, instead of the Fairy Godmother there's a moralistic sage who acts as a subtle matchmaker, arranging for the Prince to trade places with his valet, and the bad sisters give fawning attention to the "prince" while Cinderella falls in love with the "servant." Instead of the evil stepmother there's a stepfather who's more clownish. (In the end Cinderella forgives her family and rescues them from bankruptcy.) Our production is really funny.

Of the two operas, I find CENERENTOLA easier.  It helps that as a servant you only have to stand impassively with your hands behind your back most of the time, though that can also be tiring.  The world of CARMEN is an unpleasant one, full of tough guys and skanks and corruption and obsession. (I think of it as the first film noir.) I like watching that sort of drama, but being in it makes me uncomfortable.

It's a big year for Beatrice, who's one of the two Carmens and one of the two Cinderellas.  And Brad is a soloist in all twelve performances, playing Officer Zuniga in CARMEN and the sage in CENERENTOLA. We also have famous Toronto journalist Gerald Hannon, who's a riot as the stepfather.

Some of us contribute baked goods to sell in the lobby.  This weekend I'm baking them some gingerbread!



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