I'm not sure if it was from “The Phantom of the Opera” (the novel) or its Discworld parody “Maskerade” but I remember opera being described as “controlled madness.” You have divas and dancers and directors and conductors with their egos and idiosyncrasies trying to put together a show that involves singing and dancing and acting and music. During rehearsals you'd think that the thing will never fly but it miraculously does, come opening night
Yesterday we had the privilege of watching a rehearsal of Puccini's "La Boheme" at the CCP. I'm used to seeing “dress rehearsals” and press nights before a musical's run so a real one -- where the director or conductor stops the show to give notes -- was refreshing. As our host The Bachelor Girl mentioned, we caught a glimpse of one of the more vulnerable parts of the creative process, where things aren't quite right yet and the final product might still end up looking different.
Witnessing the “madness” (as Leroux or Pratchett put it) was amazing and I was half wondering if, two days before opening night, they would be able to pull it off. The backgrounds weren't quite right yet and the set changes still take forever. However you can see the concept behind the production and visualize how the actual show might turn out.
A highlight for me was seeing opera singers act like real people.
We have an image of Maria Callas and Luciano Pavarotti and think that all opera singers are like them. With the exception of Nolyn Cabahug (who, in my head, is still is the Dequadin guy), Fides Cuyugan-Asencio, and Sylvia La Torre, the Filipino public (even theatergoers like me) have little to no idea how opera singers really look like.
I was delighted to see Gary del Rosario and Lawrence Jatayna (Rodolfo and Marcello) high-fiving each other after the last scene and Jennifer Uy (Mimi) and Gary making faces while conductor Helen Quach was giving notes to the orchestra. Instead of stuffy leads and divas we had amazing singers having fun on stage.
The interview with director Floy Quintos after the rehearsals was fun and funny (ask a gay theater/showbiz guy to explain something and you'll be treated to something akin to a stand-up routine) and added to my respect for Filipino opera singers. They were perfectly fine preparing for four months to play (at most) two shows and would fret at not hitting a single note during a performance, something Quintos says straight theater people would just wing.
“It was so humbling,” says Quintos on working with opera people. For someone who is used to straight theater actors demanding more stage time and pop singers being too demanding in general, the gung-ho, professional attitude of local opera singers is simply heartening.
And then it hit me. They're real people who do something well and love what they're doing so much so that they're willing to work under less-than-ideal conditions just to make it work. The egos are really just manifestations of their perfectionism and will match eventually because there is a method to opera's madness.
Opera works not in spite but because of it.