Flying Dutchman

I’ve been spending all my time lately at the opera. The only days we’re not rehearsing or performing are the days AGMA (the American Guild of Musical Artists) requires us to have off–essentially every seventh day or so.

Not that I’m complaining. I’m more than happy to have all the work, and I’m learning new shows, having fun with friends, and earning a dollar or two. When I say a dollar or two, I mean literally. But that’s another story.

I can hear Henri cracking the exact same joke about his own salary and laughing melodramatically. Henri Venanzi is one of the best things about working at Opera Pacific. Sometimes I wonder why he sticks around. I’d like to think it’s because we’re such a personable, talented, and generally irresistible group of musicians. But why kid myself?

Now as I was saying, Henri always makes things fun; I’ve laughed my ass off in rehearsals more times than I can count. His voice is not exactly his greatest talent, but he always sings the principal parts in rehearsal. With all the typical scoops, cracks and misses they make. It’s like watching a 3-hour comic monologue as we rehearse. Boy is it great to be someplace where you laugh a lot.

But you don’t want to get on his bad side. Henri is the All Seeing, All Knowing Dude. That’s what I call him in my head. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people screwing around in staging rehearsals and watched Henri follow them with one eye while playing fiendishly difficult music on the piano, following the action on the stage, and watching the conductor with the other eye.

The other great thing about Opera Pacific is that all I have to do there is sing and act. There are others who are paid to costume, stage manage, sell tickets, raise money, create brochures, clean the theatre, and in general make it super easy to concentrate on the music. You can’t put a price on that. I think some singers don’t fully appreciate this. I certainly do, especially after working in small professional theatre where a) you never get paid, b) you put your own money into shows, and c) things don’t get done unless you do them yourself. I suppose that kind of performing art has it’s merits, but right now I’d be hard-pressed to tell you what any of them are. When you’ve worked hard on a show and the curtain finally goes up, would you rather play to a house of 20 people or 3,000 people?


So Flying Dutchman opened tonight, to a full house no less. It’s an interesting production, though I remain on uneven terms with Wagner. While the music still doesn’t send me off into seventh heaven, I think his concept of “total theatre” is exactly what opera needs. Unfortunately it was still kind of half-baked when he composed Flying Dutchman. Keith, our director, is an expert on interpreting Wagner–in fact, he studied the “total theatre” thing with Wagner’s great-granddaughter in the early 1980s.

The most interesting element of this show (and probably its most exciting moment) is when we transform from sailors to ghosts onstage. We literally tear off our costumes on the set while the stage splits in half, ghosts come up from out of the ground, and thick fog billows into the house. The idea behind it is that the ghosts are not some separate entity from the sailors. We are the ghosts. Our irrationalities, prejudices, and hatred eventually turn us into the very thing that we fear. It’s got a ring of truth to it, and I like that.

Opera with relevance. What will they think of next?

From what I’ve seen on the monitors, it’s a visually stunning show. You can do nice things when your production has a $900,000 budget. But now we’re getting to the sticky point. While Dutchman continues to run, we’re going to start rehearsal for Pagliacci and Carmina Burana (which has approximately 1.21 bazillion words). Hence the full schedule.

But again, I’m not complaining. I really do like this. In fact, I was checking out the web site for the Metropolitan Opera, the 500-pound guerilla of the opera world with a $150 million annual budget (compared with Opera Pacific’s $5-6 million). The Met has a performance of an opera every single night for five or six months. And they don’t do the same show back-to-back, but will run five or six shows in rotating repertory. Monday might be Carmen, while Die Zaberflote will perform on Tuesday and Elektra on Wednesday. And so on. Can you imagine what their chorus schedule must be like? Of course, from what I hear a member of the Met chorus will make a very sizeable six-figure income each year. They don’t have a “day job”. Singing is all they do. Must be nice.

I’m sure Opera Pacific will get there someday soon. Of course, then I’ll probably wake up. Haaaa ha ha ha. I hear Henri laughing again. Probably a subliminal message that I’m late for rehearsal. Gotta run…


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