A Night at the Opera

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been working backstage at Opera in the Heights’ production of Carmen. The score is of a rare breed—both familiar and fresh. Also perpetually entertaining are the backstage antics. For every performance in a theatre, there is a show behind the scenes. It takes place mostly in the dark and in whispered voices. Since most patrons will only experience Carmen from the front of the house, I thought I’d share some points of interests (POI) from an insider’s perspective. -- Linda Leseman

POI #1 The Value of Value Village
For $20 at Value Village, you can buy a lot of small clothes in earth tones. These make excellent costumes for the children’s chorus. The more ragged the clothing, the better.

POI #2 Fake Dirt
For $20 at Party Boy, you can purchase two containers of fake dirt. To achieve an impoverished look, apply fake dirt generously to the clothes and faces of children. Note: Do not allow fake dirt to make contact with carpet or upholstery. For reasons why, see the upstairs offices at Opera in the Heights.

POI #3 Cymbals
If you find yourself surrounded by children during an overture which utilizes cymbals, brace yourself for: 1) ear-splitting crashes, and 2) impromptu tribal dancing by children.

POI #4 Soldiers
Men in soldier costumes are very touchy-feely. They also admit to wanting a shot of whiskey midway through Act I.

POI #5 Involuntary Striptease
Overheard, as Escamillo exits the stage: “My cummerbund fell off! Right as I jumped off the table! I threw it to Jennifer. Jennifer, did you catch it? Good! I saw her sniffing it, too! Did it have my cologne on it? Good!”

POI #6 The Pastor of the Opera
By day, Lambert Hall doubles as a church, and beneath it lives the Pastor of the Opera. He prefers not to be disturbed at night by the live performances above his bedroom. In addition, any activity occurring in the basement must proceed with the utmost caution and quietude.

POI #7 The Director
Guest director Isadora Buciarelli is from Genova, Italy. She is 27 years old, and this is the second opera she has directed. Ever. The first was Donizetti’s Elixer of Love, also at Opera in the Heights. Last weekend, Buciarelli returned to Italy, where she manages props and scenery at Milan’s acclaimed Teatro alla Scala. How does Houston’s OIH compare? “This is not a big theatre,” she says, “but the quality of singers is very high. I prefer little theatres.”

POI #8 Voluntary Striptease
Between Acts III and IV, Carmen requires a fast costume change, and expletives uttered by all involved help speed the process. In addition, if the curling iron is unfortunately cold, it may be hurled across the dressing room.

POI #9 Stage Moms
Enough said. God bless their heartfelt good intentions.

POI #10 Split Personalities?
There are two casts for this production of Carmen. Dubbed Ruby and Emerald, the casts alternate performances. Each cast has a unique energy, and the title role receives two vastly different, excellent portrayals by Mary Ann Stewart and Elena McEntire.

POI #11 Not Your Grandma’s Opera
Buciarelli acknowledges that, “Carmen is known by everybody. There are a lot of stereotypes.” Her solution to this inherent challenge is to present Carmen as a “sensual, attractive, sexual” femme fatale who must “bewitch the public. Not only Don Jose.” A boring night at the opera? Think again. Keep your eyes open for the foot job Carmen gives Don Jose.

And, if you accidentally venture backstage when searching for the restroom, watch out for flying curling irons.

Carmen, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, October 5 and 6. Opera in the Heights, 1703 Heights. For information, call 713-861-5303 or visit www.operaintheheights.org. $31 to $45.
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