I am excited to be among terrific talent this year, as one of the resident artists
at Dicapo Opera, which The Times calls New York’s mini-Met. The company is celebrating its 30th anniversary, opening tonight with Tosca, the very first opera they did. I’m having a blast with some wonderful people and a chance to step out of my familiar rep to do some classic opera. It’s a different breed of singer, these opera types. They have brighter eyes and shinier pelts than us Baroque folks. An early music singer takes her place with the quiet modesty of a pit musician. An opera singer takes the room the way she takes the stage. I don’t live this repertoire too much, but with this gang of friendly, collegial, and hilarious folks, it’s a fun place to be.
Our first commitment was the annual “Death by Aria” concert, which is exactly as the name implies. All 40 something of us, one after the other got up to sing an aria with piano in front of an audience of friends, family, and opera masochists. I expected the format to be a bit tiresome, but I soon found it mesmerizing. In the intimate black box, you breathe, sing, and struggle with the performer, and every aria is its own universe. When the singing is great, as was the case for one young woman who sang Vissi d’arte, you are brought into Tosca’s universe, and you thrill with vibrations of laser sharp technique. When the singing is not so great, you are very conscious of what an artificial thing it is to present yourself in front of strangers, and you relate in a very human way.
The funny thing is, it becomes less about the music or the words, but how comfortable you feel “singing” along with the performer. Maybe this is the key to understanding opera fans. They come back again and again to the same works, waiting to be thrilled in a very physical way.
Rehearsals for Tosca proceeded at a quick pace these past couple of weeks, with everything seeming to happen at once: chorus learning its part while the set is being built in the lobby while the costume and makeup ladies scope the scene and while the leads get their blocking. Our leading lady, the gorgeous Kristin Sampson, brought her little white poodle Giacomo (Poochini?) to most rehearsals, and he followed her around as she rehearsed, occasionally piddling on the set in his excitement.
Tosca is probably the ultimate diva opera, but when you’re in the middle of it, you appreciate it for the ensemble piece it is. The offstage chorus is my favorite, illustrating what I hear throughout the score, that the best music often appears in the ensemble and the orchestra:
Meanwhile, there’s something about putting on a costume that makes you feel as if the opera is really all about you: