Thursday, December 9, 2010
I Enlist in Opera Boot Camp
I GOT A CRASH COURSE IN OPERA this evening at Opera Boot Camp, hosted by Tempo, the Minnesota Opera's membership program "for both opera newbies and buffs ages 21-39." I've never had anything against opera, and usually like what I hear when I hear it, but haven't ever dived into the genre. When I saw a press release for the event I jumped at the chance to sign up for basic training.
Before the drills began, I took a tour through their costume shop, named for Gail Bakkom, former head costume designer who is now retired. It's a ship shape shop, lined with sewing stations each complete with an industrial sewing machine, a pair of scissors tied down with a long elastic strap, and other various sewing supplies. Among the rolls of fabric and labeled boxes full of scraps, were all sizes of body forms adjusted to mimic the sizes and shapes of singers or covered in muslin garments. Our tour guide, Lani, shared some great fun facts, too. Did you know that natural light is highly important for costume designers? It's the most effective way to see the true colors of the fabrics they use. It's for this reason that the costume shop is on the top floor of their building. The south-facing wall has large windows, and there are even a couple of sky lights over the sewing machines.
The tour included a walk through the scene shop -- a massive wide-open area with enough room to build vast scene elements, like life-sized brownstone building façades. Like a hardware store, the shop had a wall of various bins full of nuts, bolts, screws, and nails all meticulously organized and tidy. Among various sizes of paintbrushes and a washbasin forever stained with layers of splashed paint, I saw a giant cardboard cylinder about half my size marked with letters that spelled out G-L-I-T-T-E-R. We exited the scene shop, which had that wonderful smell of freshly cut wood, and moved on to the individual practice rooms.
Aside from a couple of larger practice spaces, there are smaller practice rooms that have highly sophisticated sound-proofing. In fact, singers are able to choose various acoustics to fit their practice needs. A small black panel in each room has buttons labeled Arena, Large Recital Hall, Cathedral, just to name a couple. Here is a video of Max demonstrating the various settings:
Then came the drills. The Minnesota Opera's Teaching Artist, Angie Keeton, acted as the event's official Sergent. Her enthusiasm for all things Opera was infectious as she provided a quick history of opera and its major players. There were a couple of quick opera games, like match the name of the opera to its composer, and even some short solo performances by other singers. Opera began in the 1580s and seeing performances was a privilege of the wealthy class. But sooner or later art rebels, and so it did with opera. Composers started writing about regular people for regular people, and so the genre evolved into an artform that everyone is welcome to enjoy.
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For more fun details of the evening, here is a link to Max Sparber's column for Minnpost.com.