Pagliacci: Notes from Final Dress by Garnett Bruce

Oct 15, 2009

Last night was the final dress rehearsal for Pagliacci – we were able to run the acts without stopping for the most part. While we have gradually moved to running scenes and then bigger chunks of the piece – transition moments, entrances & exits often require adjustment from the work we did in the rehearsal room and our initial stage/piano rehearsals. Final dress is also one final chance to resolve the lighting cues. Ben Pearcy, our lighting designer, has focused the stage lighting with a variety of colors to both light the artists (especially their faces) and to shift the mood to mirror the emotional journey of the score. We made a number of notes at the last rehearsal, and now we need to review our work, edit our choices and see it again. We work a great deal balancing color temperature – something too bright and the life gets washed out of the picture, but something too dark or too saturated, and details are obscured. Some of the gentle gel color in the lights turned the actors’ skin and costumes the same color as some of the scenery, so that’s at the top of our list to remedy. It involves electricians on ladders crawling out to lights hung way overhead or on the balcony rail – often a time-consuming process – but it’s something you can’t really know until you put the whole picture together. Ben directs our eyes to the climax of the story in each scene – and it’s often amazing to see a set under “work-light” (normal overhead lights) and see it spring to life when the stage lights are turned on it (or in many cases, artfully turned off).

Monday was our first stage/orchestra which went quite well. But there are always those “ensemble” places between stage and orchestra that can be a challenge. A chorus (and cast) used to hearing the percussive piano has to adapt to the smoother lines of woodwinds and string instruments. Verismo opera is notorious for shifting beats and taking moments “out of time” – part of the evolution of the art form rearranging style and structure to engage the audience. Richard Buckley is a master of this style of music – so we look to him to guide our adjustments from the last rehearsal that will make a difference tonight.

At the end of rehearsal we went through our last set of notes – looking for those moments that we can improve: pointing up details to lend focus, encouraging strong moments to be a tad stronger to read to the back of the auditorium, and confirming cues with our stage manager. She’s the unsung hero of any production – the coordinator / den mother/ anticipator of problems / time keeper in all our rehearsals. You won’t see her take a bow onstage, but when the curtain goes up or the lanterns light up, she’s the one in control of all the elements and synchronizing them with the music. Opera is a great process – melding together so many talents, so many arts – and is at it’s best in a brilliant natural acoustic where the collective energy of so many becomes united behind one idea – the composer’s music. Now we look forward to adding the final element: the audience !

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