Welcome to day two of the Howloween Blog Hop! Be sure to check out all the other wonderful blogs taking part in the hop by clicking on the graphic or the link above. Each blogger is offering wonderful prizes, so be sure to check them all out!
My prize? An ebook copy of your choice of my Dreamspinner Press releases. You can check them all out here or by clicking on the “My Books” link to the left of this post. Enter by commenting on this post, and don’t forget to leave your email address so I can contact you if you win! I’ll be drawing a winner on October 30th.
For day two of the hop, and in honor of Halloween, one of my favorite holidays, I thought I’d share my own personal horror story from my real life opera career. I’ve already told you that in my various roles I’ve been stabbed to death, jumped to my death, and died of consumption (at least twice). I also got to stab a villain to death in “Tosca,” which was a lot of fun. (I know, I’m a little twisted!) And, by the way, one of my boys in “Aria” (Blue Notes #3), plays the part of the villain I got to stab.
Part of any opera singer’s training involves stage combat. At one point, I actually knew how to use a sword (not very well, but I did know how to use one). I knew how to pull a punch, slap someone across the face, pull someone by their hair, and, most importantly, how to stab someone. I also knew how to get stabbed. Or maybe I should say I knew how to avoid getting stabbed for real with a knife.
Yes. Most operatic “stabbings” are done with REAL knives. Which, believe it or not, is usually the safest type of knife to use. I say “usually,” because in my personal experience, there was one production that left me wondering.
One of the first roles I ever performed was Nedda in “I Pagliacci.” If you’ve seen a crying clown singing opera in a commercial, that’s “Pagliacci.” Nedda is the wife of the crying clown and one of the members of the troupe of performers who travel from town to town, entertaining the local folks. She was rescued from the streets when she was very young and, well, she’s not so happily married to the ageing head of the troupe. She’s getting a little something on the side from a very handsome young baritone. She also is fighting off another troupe member who insists on trying to rape her.
So here I am, maybe 25, singing in California with a tenor who was well past his prime (but perfect for the role). And he’s a little iffy, in many ways. And I’m being shoved around by a very nice baritone (the one who tries to rape my character) who gets a bit carried away with the emotion of the scene. Hence the finger-sized bruises on my upper arms. I can handle that. Bruises fade, and he really didn’t mean to grip my arms quite so hard.
The tenor, on the other hand, is a problem. The last scene in the opera, he’s found out I’ve been cheating on him, and that I plan to run away with the handsome baritone. He’s not very happy about that (understatement of the century). At the end of the scene, where we are both in clown makeup and supposedly putting on our play for the audience, the tenor is supposed to grab a knife off the table and stab both me and the cutie pie I’m trying to run off with. I’m cool with that. What I’m not so cool with is that in rehearsals, we didn’t yet have the knife, so the tenor was using a spoon on us. And really JABBING us in the gut with it. Ouch!
At this point, the baritone says, “Time out!” Mind you, he and I were both thinking, “If this guy’s going to use a real knife on us, we’re going to get hurt.” Yes, they dull the knives, but a butter knife can still end up in your belly. Not a good thing. Enter the propmistress. She’s the person who provides us with the knives.
We discuss a collapsible knife. You’ve seen these, I’m guessing. Hard plastic, and when you press the blade against something, it slips inside the handle of the knife. But they tend to jam. Baritone and I are thinking, “That would hurt like hell.” Not an option.
We discuss a rubber knife. Wobbles like a rubber chicken. Totally unconvincing. Not an option.
Back to the real knife.
And so it went for days. Seriously! And over that time, the tenor got more and more iffy. He’s still not getting his musical cues, he is missing entrances all over the place, and still stabbing us with the spoons. The baritone and I put our collective feet down. Finally, the tenor has a hissy fit in front of the entire cast and quits. Just like that.
Did I mention that “I Pagliacci” is usually performed with another short opera, “Cavalleria Rusticana?” Thank God for that! Turns out the tenor singing in THAT cast knows the role in “I Pagliacci.” He is totally professional and steps into the role with only a week of rehearsals. So in the end, we got stabbed with a real knife. I ended up with a bunch of bruises and a rave review in the San Francisco Examiner. No puncture wounds, though!
By the way, in case you’re interested in how you “stab” someone with a real knife and make it look real? The person doing the stabbing has their back to the audience and holds the knife where everyone can see. They make a pretty obvious stabbing movement toward the belly of the person being stabbed and, as they come in to do the stabbing, they flatten the knife and literally lay it across the other person’s gut. Believe me, it looks pretty damn convincing. The person getting stabbed grabs their abdomen and falls to his/her knees, writhing in pain, then becomes still. Or maybe sings an aria and then dies (this IS opera, after all!).
Hope you enjoyed my little story. Entirely true, all of it. Ah, the glamorous life of an opera singer. -Shira
PS: Did I mention there was an earthquake during rehearsals and that this was performed in Oakland, CA, about a year after the big quake that brought down part of the Bay Bridge?