Wednesday, 6 August 2014

The Cinderella Diaries - Part 3

It's hard to believe that our production of La Cenerentola is over.  The past two weeks have flown by in a blur.  And at the same time they've contained an eternity.

In the second week, our rehearsals began to pick up momentum.  We finished staging within two days, and it was an enormous relief to know that the entire opera was now blocked.  After revising a few scenes – reducing the overall levels of faffage – we began to do run-throughs.  It was so satisfying to see the show come together in its entirety.  We had spent so long fussing over little bits and pieces, and now we finally began to see the fruits of our labour.  The opera started to make some sort of sense.

Of course, being Rossini, it didn't really make sense at all.  The whole production was extremely silly in the best possible way – full of slapstick gags and physical comedy.  Most of this was carried out by my two stepsisters, who strutted about and slapped me around and bickered over their shopping bags.  I have to admit, I envied my sisters in a way.  They may not have had the most beautiful phrases to sing, but they certainly got to have the most fun onstage.

Clorinda struts her stuff.

At first I was pretty anxious about the whole physical comedy thing.  It's not that I didn't love the idea in principle.  I just wasn't sure my body would be up for the job.  My knee was still in poor shape, and while I was wearing my incredibly attractive knee support to every rehearsal, some movements were still pretty tricky.  But with time I gained fitness and confidence, and was amazed and relieved to discover that I could run, crouch, lift heavy objects, and even fall to my knees.  As rehearsals went on I slowly weaned myself off of my knee support, knowing I wouldn't be able to wear it in performance.  And it was all ok in the end.

The most exciting part of the final phase of rehearsals is the addition of costumes.  Once again, my stepsisters had the most fun here.  Yes, Alidoro enjoyed playing a dirty tramp.  And Don Magnifico got some amusement out of his teddy bear and pyjamas – not to mention a particularly ridiculous wig.  But when it came to ridiculous costumes, the stepsisters definitely took the cake.  While Clorinda played a label-obsessed rich bitch, Tisbe was some sort of Britney Spears-inspired schoolgirl fantasy gone horribly wrong.  It's not so often that you hear a singer backstage hollering "has anyone seen my nipple heart?"

Tisbe's lovely costume
(I hear she's very popular in Japan.)

In comparison, my costume was what you might call… Spartan.  I got a shower cap and a paint-splattered boiler suit.  Not exactly the sexiest thing I've ever worn.  You'd have to really suspend your disbelief to think that the prince would fall instantly and madly in love with me.

In my sexy Act 1 costume with Prince Ramiro and Alidoro.

The best part of my costume was a fetching floral headdress/veil contraption which I got to wear to the ball.  It made me blind under the stage lights, and it wouldn't stay on without the help of several bobby pins, but I still loved it.

My beautiful veil for the ball

Underneath my boiler suit was the white lace dress I would wear to the ball, so that, with Alidoro's guidance, I could magically "transform" into a vision of feminine beauty.  Between this layering of costumes, the Portuguese summer heat, and the constant running around to fetch things for my stepsisters, I was in a pretty warm situation.  In fact, I can't remember sweating so much in a show since I did War and Peace, and we all had to bundle up for the Moscow winter under hot stage lights.  Every time I went backstage between scenes, I would unzip the boiler suit and start fanning myself furiously with a spare invitation to the ball.

When I wasn't recovering from the heat, I would enjoy another favourite backstage activity: dancing.

Yes, you heard me right.  While I'm waiting in the wings for my next entry, I like to get down and boogie.  The hustle, the robot, the mashed potato – you name it.  If it suits the music and the moment, I'm all over that cheesy dance move.  I know it sounds silly, but dancing backstage keeps my energy up between scenes.  It helps me stay focused, so I'm still mentally "in the show".  Sometimes if I'm lucky, I'll catch the eye of a castmate in the opposite wing and get them to crack a smile – or even to join in.

Cenerentola Gangnam style!

The second week of rehearsals also brought a first for me: my first ever stage kiss.  See, mezzos don't usually get to play the ingénue.  We're more often secondary characters – sisters, mothers, witches, or maids.  If we do get to play a love interest, it's usually a male one.  Which means kissing the soprano, not the tenor.  But even in a trouser role, I've never had the experience of kissing another singer in a show.  That is, not until I played Cenerentola.

Kissing onstage is one of the more surreal things an opera singer has to do.  It's weird enough kissing someone to which you have no romantic attachment whatsoever.  But to do it in front of an audience?  Awkwardness central.

Luckily my prince was someone I already knew well from Scotland.  It did also help that he wasn't straight – but then again, what tenor is?  Anyway, when I finally lost my stage kiss virginity it wasn't too weird or uncomfortable.  Being a seasoned stage kissing pro, my prince went in for the smooch without question.  And before I had time to get squeamish, it was all over.  Ok, so it was a bit weird when the director started critiquing our kiss and giving suggestions for angles and timing.  But I got over the weirdness after a few repetitions.  After a while it was just another piece of staging.

Thank goodness I didn't have a stage kiss like this!

As the dress rehearsal approached I developed a bit of a cold.  I was a bit worried, but not in any panic.  Luckily, although I felt a bit congested, the cold didn't seem to affect my voice.

Until it did.

The day of the dress rehearsal arrived, and I got through most of the opera without incident.  But in my final scene, my voice suddenly cut out.  I kept trying to clear my throat between phrases, hoping it was just a matter of removing some bothersome bit of phlegm.  But it was no use.  My voice had checked out, and had no intention of returning.

It was a terrifying feeling, being voiceless onstage.  I'd never experienced anything like it.  I imagine it's something like what a fish would feel like if he were swimming in open water and suddenly heard the theme from Jaws coming around the corner.  Exposed.  Helpless.  Doomed.


I finished the rehearsal marking quietly down the octave.  My final aria, which was supposed to be full of high notes and sparkling coloratura, was practically inaudible.  The performances were the very next day.  What would I do if I couldn't sing?

Over the next 24 hours, I went on a voice-saving mission.  I put myself on vocal rest, using a combination of written messages and mime to communicate with my colleagues.  I went to bed early and slept as late as possible.  And I guzzled water by the bottle-full.


The morning of the performances arrived, and I was in a real state.  I had dreamed of singing this role for so long.  I had been so excited to be cast.  I had talked about it to everyone I knew.  After all that build up, would I be able to sing the damn thing?

I arrived hours early at the theatre, intending to do a slow and careful warmup.  Instead I ended up crying in the toilets for a good half hour.  I had never felt so anxious about a performance in my life.

It took a spell on the theatre floor, practising all the deep breathing exercises known to man, but eventually I calmed down, drank more water, and began warming up in earnest.

And by some miracle, my voice was actually there.  Maybe it was all the hydration.  Maybe it was all the careful technical work I'd done singing the role into my voice.  Whatever it was, I sang through that cold.

I made it through two performances, and it all went swimmingly in the end.  Between scenes I spent a lot of time dashing to the toilets (I had drunk a LOT of water after all) and sucking on VocalZones.  But I still had time for the odd backstage boogie.  And we all had a load of fun.  Because, with Rossini, how can you not?

And they all lived happily ever after.

After such an intense work period, it's a shock to realise that the whole thing is over.  I can't help feeling a bit of the post-show blues, and wishing we could do just one more performance.  But luckily there's no time to dwell on my bel canto bereavement.  I'm already in Switzerland for the next project.  More on that soon…

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