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Monday, May 11, 2009
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"Toi, toi, toi!"
According to what I learned backstage at the Keller Auditorium on Friday night, opera singers don't wish each other good luck. They use phrases like "toi, toi, toi," which, according to the internet, comes from the custom of spitting three times over someone's shoulder for good luck. Another common expression translates into "in the mouth of the wolf." If someone says these words to you before you head on stage you're supposed to respond with "break the wolf."
In Italian, of course.
Six Portland bloggers, myself included, attended Blogger Night at the Opera. We went on a backstage tour, we walked around the set, we peeked in the green room and the staff kept bringing us complimentary alcohol and chocolate chip cookies. All in all, I think I made the wise decision to head down there instead of staying home to watch the series finale of Dollhouse.
Among the things we learned: operas around the country trade sets, most American opera singers are conversational in Italian, three weeks is considered a long rehearsal period for the average opera, the Portland Opera decides which shows will go into production at least three years in advance, the singers aren't miked, the subtitles that appear over the stage are called "super titles" and they operate on Apple Keynote. A crew member manually hits a button to make each line appear as the performers on stage hit their queues.
Even in the perpetually casual city of Portland, opera attendees wear their finest. I was probably the most poorly dressed human being in the building, although wearing a shirt with any sort of collar is typically what I consider "dressing up." My hair refuses to stay combed for longer than two minutes so, by the time Joe Smith and his cameraman headed over for the Live @ 7 broadcast on KGW, I was looking like I'd just wandered in off the street wearing Homer Simpson's work duds. There's a reason why I don't go around posting photos of myself on the internet and all the free wine did not help matters. Here's the clip, compliments of KGW's website. I start babbling at Joe at the 1:10 mark.
The six of us blogged in the lobby before the performance began, during the two intermissions and after the final curtain dropped. Honestly, it's impossible to type anything semi-coherent with dozens of people dressed in tuxedos and cocktail dresses gawking at you like bored 3rd graders on a trip to the penguin exhibit at the Oregon Zoo. Or least that's how it was for me.
Those attendees that did speak with us were all polite, curious and nothing like the Veruca Salt-esque goblins I was expecting. Most wanted to know what we were typing and if we were saying nasty things about them. The highlight was a dapper older gent dressed in a tuxedo. He couldn't quite grasp the concept of blogs but was completely well versed in the world of computers and discussed at length the wiki he recently created. He ended our conversation by saying he built his first computer in the early 70s. I have no idea who this guy is or to what extent he was screwing with me. I suspect he may be a retired higher-up from Tektronix or Intel. What a character.
During the second intermission, a tenor stopped by to answer questions and shake hands. He'll be performing in a series of productions when the Portland Opera begins its next season in the fall. I had to think of questions on the spot. The first that sprang to mind was how he got into this businesses (he began acting in high school productions and went on to perform theater at Yale) and how many calories the average opera singer burns during a 3-hour show (plenty and some of them insist on going on stage with a full stomach).
There was also the opera itself, a stunning production of Rigoletto, which follows the tragedy of a cursed court jester and the perils of unrequited love in Renaissance-era Italy. Mark Rucker did a bang up job in the title role and it was surprising to learn that Sarah Coburn, who played Gilda, performed while six months pregnant. Not to give anything away, but Gilda spends much of the third act getting dragged across the stage in a burlap sack.
It was great to see Dieselboi's truly impressive sideburns up close and to meet several local bloggers who's stuff I've been reading for years but who I had never met in person. Mike Russell not only live-blogged the event, he also live-illustrated it. I hope he posts the contents of his sketchpad over at Culture Pulp sometime soon. In the meantime, several of the pages are viewable on his Twitter account.
A thanks and a tip of the hat go out to the Portland Opera and Publicity and Publications Manager Julia Sheridan for organizing the event. It truly was a wonderful evening. Thanks, everybody.
Rigoletto continues through May 16th at the Keller Auditorium. Tickets, info and more can be found here.