Last night I sang the role of Alice in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. No, it wasn’t at any opera house you might have heard of; it was a performance of the opera in its entirety at a little Italian restaurant in South Philly called the High Note Cafe.
I’d never done anything like this in my life, which is odd, because I have done a lot of bizarre stuff to further my career, including singing sea shanties on a tall ship, unknowingly impersonating a Sephardic Jew, and unwittingly auditioning for a “gentleman’s club” revue. This opera gig ranks up there in the top ten adventures for sure.
Not that the gig itself was bizarre. It was incredibly straightforward: a read-through, with piano, of the opera in its entirety (okay, with a few of the chorus bits cut) for the audience who had come for an evening of Italian food and opera. What a great combination!
And for a singer, this is a wonderful no-pressure opportunity to learn a role and sing it all the way through, knowing that you’ll get accolades from an appreciative audience, even if you didn’t sound like you just won the Met competition. And you get paid, so it really is a win-win situation.
I had been asked to sing this role last week, and I was told that it really was an easy role and incredibly low pressure. I didn’t even have to show up to the rehearsal, I was told (which was good, because I was out of town the weekend of the rehearsal). And because I’m very confident in my sight-reading skills (and Alice is not a large part at all) I don’t think I really spent a whole lot of time learning the part, even though I had a week to prepare. Oh, I listened to a recording and looked through the music, but that’s about it…I didn’t really learn any of it at all.
So when I arrived backstage at the “green room” (the apartment above the restaurant), I was not surprised that everybody was relaxing. Then someone mentioned cuts in the score that they had gone over in the rehearsal that I missed, and I started to panic a bit. I tried to write down all the cuts that the pianist had in his score, but while he was doing that (and going over tempi with me), the guy who hired me was going over staging (well, okay, entrances and exits; it’s a teeny tiny space). And I’m not too good with multi-tasking, so I know I missed a few cuts and a few staging bits, but I figured I’d just wing it.
And wing it I did. No, it was not my best performance, but it was certainly fun, and if I got a chance to do it again, I would (although I would be more comfortable with the music next time). I think I messed up some of the “staging,” and I sang one of Lucia’s lines in the recitative accidentally, but nobody cared. There was even a woman in the audience that wanted everyone’s autograph afterwards. All in all, a pretty nice night.