Martina Arroyo’s Prelude to Performance 2018: Week 1
By : Melanie Spector (Nannetta Auditor)
The first week of Martina Arroyo’s 2018 Prelude to Performance program is officially in the books! Just in the last five days, Hunter College has been bustling with activity in preparation for the two operas Prelude will be presenting at the end of the six-week program: Giuseppe Verdi’s Falstaff and Gaetano Donizetti’s Don Pasquale. I am so excited to be auditing the role of Nannetta in Falstaff and to be on this journey with so many other young singers.
On Monday, June 4, the very first day of the program, all Prelude participants first gathered in Brecher Hall at Hunter College for a “Meet and Greet” with Martina and the Prelude staff. Laughter is inevitable when Martina is in the room; she had everyone in stitches as she introduced the Prelude faculty and production team. Introducing Steven Horak, the wigmaster for both shows, she said something along the lines of, “He used to make me look so beautiful that I would walk down the hallway and people would stop and say ‘Well hello, Ms. Price!” After sharing many more laughs, Prelude participants took a tour of the Hunter College Music Department following a delicious lunch provided by the Prelude staff. We were shown where coachings would take place, where practice rooms are located, and most importantly, “Café Prelude”, which will be supplying coffee and snacks through the duration of the program.
No sooner had we broken the ice and shaken out our first day-jitters when it was time for the principals, covers, and auditors of Falstaff and Don Pasquale to report to Brecher Hall and the Black Box Theater, respectively, for musical run-throughs of both shows! Richard Cordova, a longtime pianist and coach with Prelude, and Steven Crawford, longtime conductor, took their podiums and led the first rehearsals of the program. (As I am auditing Nannetta, I can only attest to the production of Falstaff). Principals sat in front, covers behind them, and auditors in the last row. While Verdi’s score, which entails the delightful tale of Merry Wives of Windsor, is fun, it is also very complex in its rapid shifts from small ensemble to recitativo to big ensemble to love duet. It was no surprise that the first musical run-through did not run as smooth as silk, but all of us left Hunter raving about how talented we thought the principals sounded and anticipating how wonderful it will be to study Verdi’s masterpiece in depth.
Over the next three days, from 10:00-6:00, the Falstaff team rehearsed Acts I, II, and III, respectively, with the principals and covers. The auditors continued to observe and take copious notes on the characters they are shadowing, as well as other characters and various aspects of the score. Maestro Cordova drilled the singers on Italian double consonants, strict rhythms, and his mantra of “breathing in tempo”. In earlier Verdi operas, as the Maestro pointed out, there are more opportunities to take time for effect and breathing. For example: Most Violettas do not sing “E’ strano” strictly in tempo as they begin “Ah fors’ e lui…Sempre libera” from La Traviata; They usually elongate that “strano” for dramatic effect. On the other hand, in Falstaff, Verdi leaves very little room for interpretation when it comes to rhythm and tempo. It is crucial that ensembles are crisp and precise in order to convey the comedy Verdi and Boito created, with help from Shakespeare.
For auditors and second covers, Tuesday and Thursday’s work extended into the evening as we reported for Falstaff chorus rehearsals with director Noby Ishida. Noby, in addition to coaching at Hunter College and directing many other choruses, has directed the Prelude chorus for the past several seasons. His wonderful anecdotes and good humor put us in the perfect mood as we began to tackle the famous final fugue “Tutto nel mondo è burla” (All the world is a joke). Piecing together the fugue is a universal challenge for opera companies ranging from the Met to young artist programs, but by the end of the first week, we managed to run it without, what many musicians like to call, a “train wreck”.
After a long four days of music rehearsals, on Friday it was time to begin staging Act I with director Ian Campbell. Mr. Campbell has directed numerous productions for Prelude, including Suor Angelica/Gianni Schicchi (2017) and La Bohème (2016). In order to scope out the singers and get an understanding of their capability, Mr. Campbell was present at all of the music rehearsals during the week. Before we began, he stressed how important it is to be perpetually prepared, whether for rehearsals or for a sick colleague at the very last minute. He also warned us that comedy is difficult, but with the right timing and strong eye contact, we could put on a wonderful show. Throughout the week, he advised us and gave us other wonderful tips for conquering the industry. I believe I speak for the rest of the Prelude participants in saying that we look forward to hearing more of his valuable advice over the next five weeks.
Next week we continue staging Falstaff while adding nuances and other layers. We also begin classes, including Italian/Libretto taught by Sergio Stefani; Movement with Wendy Taucher; Stage Combat with Brad Lemons; and Martina’s Role Class. This coming Thursday, June 14, selected Prelude participants will have the chance to sing in a mock audition/master class for artist agent Ken Benson, followed by a Q&A session for all Prelude participants. All of us at Prelude are looking forward to what is to come as we approach the performance dates of Falstaff and Don Pasquale: July 13 and 14 at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College.