Behind the curtain — Hoffmann rehearsals

Edmonton Opera Blog

Behind the curtain — Hoffmann rehearsals

In a few short weeks, the constant activity upstairs in the Jubilee rehearsal hall transforms into Offenbach’s dark fairytale, Les Contes d’Hoffmann.

By the time it gets on stage, all the moving parts — stage managing, costume and makeup, direction of the concept — will be neatly hidden behind the scenes, but for now, it’s all on display as the opera comes together.Concept designs and set designs displayed on one wall at the rehearsal hall

And it’s fascinating.

For those who are at the rehearsal hall day and night — literally, because some of the most interesting social media content from rehearsal comes across the Internet at ridiculous hours of the night — the process may seem a little more gradual.

But for those of us who commute from the admin offices at the Winspear Centre to the rehearsal hall on a semi-regular basis, every other night or a few days a week for a couple of hours, the changes are inspiring and exciting.

At the beginning of January, Edmonton Opera staff met the cast and creative team at the airport as they arrived on a handful of flights. It was nice for both parties — staff got a chance to talk to the artists when they weren’t busy with rehearsal, and artists could ask questions about the city they’d be living in for the next four weeks. Even things as simple as grocery stores, good radio stations and arts spaces can be important.

Though rehearsals for both principals and chorus started by sitting in chairs and singing the following Monday, those chairs weren’t for long. Two-thirds of the rehearsal hall is now a duplicate of the Jubilee stage, complete with props; the principals and chorus are learning staging, where to move, when to move and how to move.

As he’s explaining things, director Joel Ivany will shadow the principals, demonstrating where in the scene he wants more emphasis or an added gesture. He also asks questions of the cast, about the feeling of a certain line or moment; they reply and ask questions of their own.

For casual onlookers, the process is really smart — since Antonia, the ailing singer, doesn’t wear a watch, soprano Ileana Montalbetti removes the timepiece on her left wrist. Alternatively, tenor Steven Cole arrives at rehearsal wearing regular shoes, but sometime between then and stepping on the “stage” for his scene, he’s replaced them with overly large, red clown shoes. It’s all part of the character Frantz, who slumps with bad posture because, as Cole says here, “My posture (for Frantz) kind of says, ‘He’s seen better days.’”

The same methodical approach applies to the chorus too: at one point, chorus members have time to list, on paper, the backstory of their character(s); before staging the epilogue Ivany talks through the principals’ parts for the chorus, alternating the French libretto with English translation.

Only so much can happen in the rehearsal hall, however, so some of the effects that Ivany is imagining for the final scene — and explains to the chorus — won’t happen until they move on to the Jube stage.

What is the final, memorable scene? You’ll have to go to the circus to find out. 

Photos courtesy Joel Ivany, Twitter (@joelivany)


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