Behind The Scenes: ‘The Daughter Of The Regiment’
Sailing The High C’s Of Opera
Friday, January 18, 2013
KPBS arts critic Beth Accomando sits in on a San Diego Opera rehearsal.
The San Diego Opera kicks off it's 48th season next weekend with "The Daughter of the Regiment." KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando sat in on a rehearsal to get the low down on singing the high C's in the opera's famous aria.
Putting on an opera is tough work but in San Diego the task is made even harder by an intense schedule that requires performers, crew members, sets, costumes, props, and wigs to all be ready in a mere 3 weeks says Nicolas Reveles, San Diego Opera's Geisel Director of Education.
"It's a very condensed process. We don't have the luxury in the United States to be able to have lengthy rehearsal periods so we have to get everything in a much more concentrated amount of time."
"I got off a plane yesterday so I'm exhausted," says tenor Stephen Costello.
But Costello, like the rest of the singers, got down to work almost immediately.
"It's a working rehearsal," explains Reveles, "But it's also the first time everybody is working together and these singers they come from all over the world, so we have people here from Poland (Ewa Podleś), from Slovakia (L’ubica Vargicová), from the East coast (Stephen Costello, Kevin Burdette), from right here in San Diego (Carol Vaness)."
The San Diego Opera has not mounted a production of Gaetano Donizetti's "The Daughter of the Regiment" since 1990. The opera tells the story of a Marie, a young girl raised by a regiment of soldiers that found her as an infant. Although originally set during the Napoleonic wars, it's often updated to other time periods. The San Diego Opera's production is set in the waning days of World War II.
"'La Fille Du Regiment,' 'The Daughter of the Regiment' was written for the Opéra comique in Paris, 1840, which the Opéra comique was a very specialized theater, lighter fare, it wasn't the kind of serious or tragic opera that you would see at the Paris opera, at the big opera company. In terms of this opera I think people will be surprised that there is spoken dialogue," says Reveles.
"It's kind of a first for me," says Costello, "I'm trying to get a hold of where I have to be funny and where I have to be serious and it's also my first time doing dialogue as well so that frightens the hell out of me."
Costello plays Tonio, a young man who falls in love with Marie. He also has a central role in one of the opera's comic high points.
"In fact one of the most important comic elements is Tonio's Aria, the famous aria that has 9 hi C's, ' says Reveles.
"It's a tour de force for the tenor, ' says Yves Abel is the conductor, "Everybody's going to the opera to hear it, and everybody's hoping the guy makes it through it and the tenor is secretly hoping to death that he's not going to be encored so he has to sing it again."
"The challenge is that a tenor named Luciano Pavarotti who everybody knows, has ruined the opera world for tenors, ' says Costello, "because he sings The Daughter of the Regiment aria and it's extremely hard, very easily and he makes it very famous."
"They're quite unique these high C's," explains Abel, "because usually you approach the high C from below and you kind of comfortably sail up to the note. In this case he has them taking the bottom C and then sing the high C, nine times."
"Well the reason he sings nine high C's," adds Reveles, "is that he's just been given permission to marry Marie by the entire regiment of soldiers who are her father so his reaction immediately is to start singing really extreme notes to express his happiness. I think there's just a little bit of a off color joke going on there with Donizetti, those high C's that are constantly reaching up. I like to call it with my audience if you'll forgive me, music on a little blue pill."
For Abel, he's just trying to help his tenor sail the high C's with ease: "I'm listening to the comfort level of the singer and I'm listening to how he feels while he's singing that and if he feels a certain amount of strain how can I help him out, can I make the tempo a little bit faster for him, the speed of the aria faster, can I make it slower so that he has more time to get it into his body and through his technical mechanism."
Costello is like an athlete who's been in training and can't wait for the starting gun to go off: "It's exactly like an athlete. I have to sing it every day because like when you exercise, you have to keep it up, you have to get it in the same position consistently every time and you also have to keep your stamina up and you have to keep your air flowing and it's the same thing it's like an athlete like Kobe Bryant or something when he's going up for a three point shot, he has to make it every time when it matters, it's the same thing with the aria, you have to hit those high C's every single time and you have to be sure that when you let them go they will be there."
But on the first day of rehearsal, Costello says the high C's aren't there.
"I've been flying and the problem is when you fly your voice dries out."
So the only way to hear Costello's vocal acrobatics is to go see "The Daughter of the Regiment" when it opens next weekend.
The San Diego Opera's "The Daughter of the Regiment" opens January 26th at the Civic Theater. You can also listen live to the opera on KPBS opening night.