This week we open the final main stage production of LA Opera’s 2016/17 season – Tosca. If you’ve been following along on social media, you’ve seen a host of rehearsals in progress. As the elements come together this week, we thought we’d break it down and show you how an opera comes to life.
GETTING TO KNOW TOSCA
Several weeks ago, we started with studio rehearsals. These are musical and staging rehearsals where the principal cast and the chorus go through the music, sometimes individually, sometimes together, to get a sense of the show’s flow, the acting involved and how the director expects it to all look. These rehearsals are conducted in rehearsal halls with a piano, not on the stage and without many of the main elements of the opera (the orchestra, the lighting, the costumes etc). Each scene is mapped out on the floors with tape so that the cast can rehearse their roles in their proper positions, relevant to each other and the chorus, as well as to the sets and props on stage.
BUILDING THE SHOW
On a parallel path, our production team is building the set, developing the lighting and rehearsing the set changes. Each scene change requires its own choreographed movement to ensure it is completed within the allotted time, usually during the intermission.
At the same time, our costume team is developing, building and fitting costumes for each of the cast members. Each piece must be customized for the individual wearing it (even a body double) and fitted with the necessary elements that support the staging of the character – ensuring they can make their movements onstage and ease through any quick changes offstage.
ORCHESTRATING THE MUSIC
On its own rehearsal path and without the singers, the orchestra works through the music with the conductor in what’s known as an Orchestra Read. James Conlon, LA Opera’s music director, will lead the orchestra for this iconic production. They will review the piece multiple times over the course of two weeks leading up to opening night.
About ten days prior to the opening, the pieces start coming together and hit the set stage.
SINGERS + SET = PIANO TECH REHEARSAL
At the Piano Dress Tech rehearsals, the cast takes the stage for the first time. They rehearse with no costumes, little show lighting and no orchestra. They’ll map their action across the stage, note the spacing and their role relevant to the audience in the theater.
SINGERS + SET + LIGHTING + COSTUMES = PIANO DRESS REHEARSAL
At the Piano Dress rehearsal, the cast takes the stage for the first time in costume. They are called as if they were performing and get into their full makeup, hair and costumes. This too is a rehearsal of sorts for the costume, wig and makeup team. They’ll work through their timing and the pieces and parts each character will require. On the stage and while they sing, the cast works through their movements, while the production team works through the set, lighting, etc.
SINGERS + ORCHESTRA = SITZPROBE
At the sitzprobe, the singers meet the orchestra for the first time. Sitzprobe translates literally from German to English as “Sitting Rehearsal.” And that’s exactly what it is. There is no staging, there are no costumes, the cast and the chorus sits in rows of chairs on the stage facing the orchestra pit. This magical rehearsal is all about the music.
ALL THE PIECES IN PLACE = ORCHESTRA TECH
The is the first time all the pieces are together is at the Orchestra Tech. It’s the opportunity to refine and perfect. The director gives notes for the production, the conductor gives notes to orchestra and the cast about the music. When challenges arise, they’re solved at this series of rehearsals that take place in one or across two days. Sometimes costumes are adjusted, lighting is modified and set pieces are adjusted or moved. Even the translated text – supertitles – are in place. During this rehearsal, our stage manager refines all the cuing. This is probably the most critical rehearsal in the series – they start and stop and rework.
AUDIENCE READY = FINAL DRESS
Just a few days before we open, we run the show as if it were opening night. All the kinks have been worked out and we’re nearly ready for an audience. And sometimes we have one. Through our Education and Community Engagement programs, we invite special groups of seniors or students from schools across the county to observe the rehearsal and experience the grandeur of our main stage operas.
It’s from the Final Dress Rehearsal that we Tweet live. So, if you want a sneak peek at Tosca, follow us on Twitter and make your plans to catch this opera classic before it wraps on May 13.
When these different paths converge and all these world class artists and artisans come together, there’s nothing like it. There’s a reason we say that LA Opera is greater than the sum of its arts. At the downbeat on opening night – when Maestro Conlon gets us going – you’ll understand why.
Puccini’s Tosca opens on Saturday, April 22 with seven opportunities to witness unbridled courage of the quintessential opera heroine against the ultimate bad guy. Click here to purchase tickets.LA Opera is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the greater good.