Motorcycles, Children, and the Bursting of Bubbles….

For the faithful readers of my blog (and I DO thank you), and for the occasional visitors to it; I thought it might be fun to post a short missive on what really goes on in the wings of the stage and, in fact, on-stage or just behind the set during a performance.  As you read on, the title of this post will become clear:

With my stomach having exorcised its acid (read previous post “Acid and Angst”!!) and returned to normal, it was now time to concentrate on the opening night of the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current production of La Fanciulla del West. With Maestro Sir Andrew Davis in a jolly mood, all of the singers healthy, and our secret weapon for success (Susan Hult in the prompters box!) ready to go, we all took to the stage still riding high from a very fine final dress rehearsal just two days earlier.  After a somewhat uneven start, we all settled in for the ride and were soon coasting smoothly along the silken melodic ribbons of Giacomo Puccini’s masterful score.  To say that this score is beautiful would be the biggest understatement of this new decade!  The orchestration is beyond sublime, the male choral work is at one turn tearful, and at the next, frightfully aggressive.  Every principal singer gets a “Puccini moment”, which of course includes the three most forward principals Minnie, Rance, and Johnson, respectively.  With Deborah Voigt, Marcello Giordani, and Marco Vratogna out front; with some high end support from ‘yours truly’ as well as my other substantial colleagues, it would prove to be an unbeatable combination.

This type of confidence in all departments inspires a sense of relaxation that is not always present for all productions.  The net result??  A whole lot of jibber-jabber!!!

As we stood in the wings awaiting our entrances, or at our pre-set positions before the curtain rose, we mostly talked (up until the very last moment, by the way) about the NFL Playoffs (which I am watching as I write this entry).  Could Chicago really beat Green Bay??  Could the Jets really pull off another unlikely victory??  “Where you gonna watch the game tomorrow?”  “Any money on the games tomorrow??”  “I want to see an NBA game while I am here”, says Marco Vratogna, “You know I played basketball in Italy for 11 years!”  “No we didn’t know that Marco”, chimes in another, “And we don’t really care either!”, says still another.  “It’s all about football right now Marco”, says I….”Not that crap you Europeans (more correctly) call Football, either.  I’m talking about American Football baby!!!”  We all laugh….

“Places please!!” call the Assistant Stage Managers all around us; and we scurry into positions.  A few “high-fives”, and we are off and running.  “Where are my matches??”, Marco nervously whispers as the curtain rises.  I whisper, “The only Italian drama we want right now comes from Puccini, not YOU Marco!!”  Quiet laughter; matches located and lit; first disaster averted!!!

As Act I continues, there are several entrances and exits to and from The Polka Saloon by the entire cast; which also means that there are long moments when we are either ‘static’ (but alive) on the stage, or in some cases we can actually hide behind the moderately large Saloon set piece.  During these hidden moments, Marcello Giordani, myself, and a fine young tenor, Rene Barbera, have a discussion about motorcycles.  You see, Mr. Barbera has just purchased a ‘relatively new’ Honda to replace his older one.  But this discussion about motorcycles is a continuing one actually, because Mr. Barbera simply cannot shut-up about this new “sweet bike” that he cannot ride until the spring.  “We know Rene, we KNOW….it’s a sweet-bike“, we joke!!  Marcello Giordani then says, “My kid calls me from Italy and tells me that he just bought a motorcycle…without telling me!!”  Meanwhile, Sheriff Jack Rance sings his one impassioned aria of the night to Minnie on just the other side of this set piece (but don’t worry, they can’t hear us), but we are not particularly listening to him either; motorcycles are more important at the moment.  “And now, dis-a-new-a-motor-a-cycle, she’s a leak-a-oil already!”, Marcello complains.  I tell Marcello, in my typical non-sympathetic style, “If your son can afford to buy a motorcycle behind your back, then he can afford to have it repaired too!”  “Oh No”, says Marcello; “He paid for the motorcycle with his own money, but I’ll have to pay for everything else!”  “Sometimes I feel guilty, because I’m always on the road, so I don’t want to tell him ‘no’; you know what I mean?”  “Yeah, I know.”, I tell him;  “That’s why I never had kids myself.”.  Veteran chorister, John Concepcion then says, “You should see how big Santiago (his son) has gotten, he’s bigger than me now!!”  And so it goes: on and on, until it’s time to re-enter, completely in character, to continue the action on stage.

This type of banter continues all night long behind the set, in the wings of the stage, in the hallways as we walk to the dressing room area, with ne’er a word about what’s going on out on the stage.  We enter the stage, sing our scenes, come off,  and then get back to ‘football’, or ‘motorcycles’, or ‘kids’.

Now the point of this blog-posting is not meant to “burst any bubbles” for those of you who think we are somehow different than anyone else when it comes to the workplace environment.  But if, just if, you may think that we are so wholly invested in our ‘characters’, or so attentive to our ‘voices’, or so completely engrossed in the ‘drama’ of this magnificent art form (that we are so privileged to present to the public), that we can think of nothing else; you would be wrong…..  {Ohhh my, the sound of that bubble bursting has left me deflated myself!}

So quoting from one of my favorite musicals (Chicago):  “I hope I haven’t taken too much of your time!”

Thanks for reading, as ever; this one was just for fun!!


p.s. As I modify this posting at 9:00 p.m. on Sunday January 23, 2011: NO, the Chicago Bears could NOT defeat the Green Bay Packers, nor could the New York Jets pull off a victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers!!!!

Acid and Angst!!

When I was first starting off in the opera business, I remember being impressed when I heard that a fellow singer had just flown in from London, Paris, San Francisco, or New York.  So romantic it seemed; and I wondered if I would ever get the chance to be the one doing the flying….well, be careful of what you wish for… the saying goes.  Below is just the most recent account of when everything in your stomach turns to acid, and angst rules your life for several hours–all in the name of being part of the, so called, jet-setting opera class!!

It doesn’t really matter who you are, or for that matter, who you THINK you are in this business when it comes down to travel.  Artistic Administrators, as part of the Management arm of most opera companies, do not take too kindly to artists flying in and out of town with regard to overlapping assignments.  Their position is a fair one of course, as they are trying to best protect the interests of their specific company.  True operatic superstars (Fleming, Domingo, etc, etc.) can usually dictate where they are going to be, whether it is “coming” or “going”, but even that is not true 100% of the time.  For the rest of us, however, there is almost always a gentle battle between our agent/managers and Artistic Administrators/General Directors regarding our (temporary) residency in any given city.  The less an artist has to fly around, the better a night’s sleep Company administrators experience.  No flying around means far less trouble for everyone, but who said this world is perfect or fair??!!

I, myself, recently had a few bouts of struggle with regard to interstate travel.  It took some very high level negotiating to get the San Francisco Opera to allow me to do some overlap flying between Dallas and San Fran for an upcoming series of performances in one locale, and rehearsals in the other.  No less complicated was the deal that was eventually struck between the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Metropolitan Opera to allow the same.  Artists are sometimes caught betwixt and between situations where a one week overlap of projects could cost us an entire job.  In this economy especially, it is very difficult for any artist to turn down–or lose– work that can potentially be worth thousands of dollars.  And so the begging and battling begins….

I have been on both sides of this issue: I’ve lost an entire (last minute) job because of having to miss two rehearsals elsewhere where I was originally contracted–the Opera Company simply said I could not leave and that was that….despite more begging and battling.  And I have been pleasantly surprised to land a few extra jobs due to the cooperation of Opera House Management teams and my agent(s).  But once an agreement is made (and there really are many variables in the mix that either scuttle the attempt, or allow it to move forward), it is up to the ARTIST to follow through on what they promise.  Hence the title of this posting “Acid and Angst”.

I spent the better part of this past week flying back and forth between Chicago and New York; oddly enough to rehearse La Fanciulla del West in Chicago, and continue with my performance/cover responsibilities at the Met for the same opera (different productions).  So complicated and abundant is the staging for Nick the bartender, that I cannot blame the Lyric Opera of Chicago for balking at the idea of my flying back and forth for this first week of rehearsal….after all, I had their contract first, and we do not have a lot of time to remount this current production.  But with some prodding from my agent to cooperative (but not thrilled) Artistic Administrators in both cities, it was agreed to by all parties.  Now comes the “fun”, “glitzy”, “exciting”, “romantic” part: Getting back and forth in the winter-time with the recent NYC blizzard still fresh on everyone’s mind, along with very short turn-around times for ‘yours truly’ to help complicate matters!!  I thought, “With one blizzard out of the way (I was in New York for that one–and good thing because I would not have gotten back in time for my contracted duties had I left over the Christmas holiday!) what were the chances that I would run into THAT again?”  Famous last words….

I had to be in Chicago to rehearse on Friday, and was to be released to fly back to NYC for the final performance of Fanciulla at the Met for Saturday afternoon’s HD broadcast into movie theaters worldwide (very important to be there, and to be there a day early!), when–you guessed it–another storm begins to barrel up the East Coast.  Taking pity on me in Chicago, the director, along with some help from the rehearsal/scheduling department, found a way to release me extra early that day so that I could try to get out….even as reports of all New York airports closing, and hundreds of flight cancellations resounded everywhere.  Well, my flight still showed an on-time departure, so off to the airport I went.

“So far, so good”, I thought, as I arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, and was quickly through security.  The airport, in fact, seemed unusually ‘dead’ with hardly any foot traffic in the massive, modern United Airlines Terminal.  I went to the Red Carpet Club (Airline) Lounge to discuss possibilities for getting to New York early–I was moved without penalty to the 3:00 flight in an effort to get out of Chicago and get to NYC, ASAP.  The 11:00 a.m. and 12:00 noon flights had both been canceled, so the airline representative was certain that the 2:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. flights would go as expected since there was now a back-log of passengers that still needed to get to La Guardia Airport.  Plus, the weather seemed to be cooperating a bit better than was expected, although up-to-the-minute reports still showed a heavy band of snow in the Tri-State region of the East Coast.  The idea was to get airborne in the small window of time that may have existed.  The 2:00 flight, upon which I was to have been a stand-by passenger, was then delayed by :45 minutes–my stomach begins to knot–but the 3:00 was still showing an on-time departure(?!?).  Strange, I thought; and I decided that I would just keep to my rescheduled 3:00 flight since I couldn’t be at two gates at the same time when the boarding process was to begin.  (Plus I had a great confirmed seat on the 3:00 departure, and no guarantee of even getting a seat on the 2:00.)  I arrive at my gate and we begin boarding right on time!  “Wonderful”, I think, as I take my seat and realize how thankful I was to have eaten that turkey sandwich in the airline lounge, as it was my first food of the day…..

We sit patiently as our fellow passengers board, and I strike up a conversation with a very attractive Amer-Asian young lady who is sharing the second row with me.  Engaged in pleasantries, I lose track of the minutes; but then realize that we have been sitting for an inordinate amount of time with no closing of the cabin door or announcements from the purser.  Then it happens(!); the Captain’s voice coming across the tinny speakers of the public address system announcing that the aircraft has a “missing part” that we simply cannot fly without!  That turkey sandwich begins to turn to acid in my stomach, as I know the “window of opportunity” to get to NYC is now closing.  He announces that we will wait for maintenance to come and “assess the situation”….”about 30 minutes” time, he suspects (“maybe I SHOULD have tried for that standby seat” I opine, because that plane was now airborne according to my seat mate, as she quickly thumbed through the Mobile Airline App. on her Blackberry).  Meanwhile, the weather in the Chicagoland area begins to deteriorate rapidly; the result of another storm system unrelated to the weather on the East Coast.  Now my anxiety level really begins to rise….

So what’s the big issue here, you may ask??:  Well….if I do not get to New York by Saturday’s matinee performance, I will be in breech of my contractual obligations and will, of course, not be paid either–not to mention having to deal with the potential backlash from Met management (and rightfully so, I might add).  And while nobody can ever blame one human being for succumbing to two different storm systems, remember that it is still my obligation to get where I am supposed to be.  (You will recall that I begged and battled for this agreement!!)

Thirty long minutes pass, and the captain announces that the plane cannot be repaired at the gate, and we must all depart the plane while they search for another aircraft to swap out for this now hobbled Airbus 319.  “Acid and Angst” now begin to rule my life as we pile back out into the terminal.  We are told to go to an adjoining gate and await further instructions.  “I knew it was too good to be true”, I say to myself, with regard to potentially getting out of Chicago and into the Big Apple earlier than expected–if at all!  Time passes, acid burns, and angst ties my stomach into sailor’s knots.  Then another executive decision is made and announced:  “We have decided to combine the 3:00 and 4:00 flights to New York and we have another aircraft!!”  “So let’s (and I quote) re-board this sucker!!”  Same seats, same lovely Asian travel mate, but hours have now passed due to the change of aircraft and deterioration of weather in Chicago.  Hoping against hope, I board and buckle-up.  Then it happens(!) {again}:  “Uhhh…, Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking; Uhhh…., there seems to be a bit of a problem up here in the front of the cabin….catering has forgotten to deliver a galley to this aircraft, and it is against FAA regulations to fly without a proper galley on board.”  (“ACID”, “AAAACID“, “AAAAAAACID”, and “AAAAANGST”!!!!!)  He continues:  “Now, Uhhhhhh…., I know what you are probably thinking; that maybe you can deplane again and catch what would have been that 5:30 flight to New York; well, Uhhhhhh…., that won’t be possible, because Uhhhhhhhhh…., that flight has now been canceled.”  That bit of news left me with the final possibility of catching the original flight that I had booked–the last flight of the day, the 7:00 p.m.  That was, if this flight did not get off the ground…..

More conversation with Anne, my vivacious seat mate, who is traveling to New York to host a large sorority convention.  If she doesn’t get there, then no one will know what to do with regard to dealing with the hotel personnel with whom she has been planning this large event for 250 sorority sisters.  I tell her my potential tale of woe as well, and then ‘voila‘….after another 30 minutes had passed, the galley was loaded onto the aircraft.  Then it happens(!)….[Yes, AGAIN!!!!]  “Uhhhh…, ladies and gentlemen this is your Captain speaking; Uhhhhh…., I have good news and bad news here….(“ACID and ANGST”)….the good news is that the weather seems to be cooperating a bit better in New York, as that storm system has moved rapidly north of the New York Metropolitan area; the bad news is that our weather here has deteriorated and we have been put on a ground-hold for the time being.”   “Uhhhhh….., plus it has gotten so cold outside that the plane now needs to be de-iced before we can even think of departing even if we do get clearance.”  (“Just shoot me now!!!”, I said to Anne, as the “ACID and ANGST” had now paralyzed me…..)

Well, we eventually DID get out of Chicago and to New York City that night…..late to be sure, but we got there.  And I want to thank my seat mate for providing ample and distracting conversation that made those “Acid and Angst” moments just a bit easier; but for those of you who think this business is so romantic, glitzy, and exciting; just remember this blog posting and then ask yourself:

Could it all really be worth that much “Acid and Angst”????  Sometimes I wonder!  And just for your additional information; there was hardly a dusting of snow on the ground in New York City when we finally did arrive!!!!!

Thanks for reading this one….I know it was lengthy!!!