For a Juilliard opera, the rehearsal process begins initially with individual score study in which each singer prepares their own roles/parts for a few weeks before going into work with Juilliard coaches.
This means going through text, rhythms, pitches, and storyline in order to be ready for the specific work of phrasing and musicality. Since Dido and Aeneas, our current opera, is in English, we still have to IPA [International Phonetic Alphabet] all of the text, but we don’t have to go through the process of translation that would otherwise be necessary for operas in other languages.
After all the coachings were done and all the singers had learned and perfected their music, Mary Birnbaum, our director, introduced the concept of the opera to the cast. This led to costume fittings, staging rehearsals, and work with our conductor, Avi Stein. It really does take a village to put on these productions, and our amazing coaches attend all of our singing rehearsals to ensure that we stay on track musically while learning the correct staging.
Dido and Aeneas has been an incredible process because of how unique it is in comparison to other opera productions I have done. This is because Mary brought in a wonderful choreographer to set real dancing to the opera. I know, It sounds crazy right? Opera singers dancing? Well it’s true! Not only that, we are also eating, cartwheeling, and even sprinting backstage in order to get to our entrances on time. Talk about triple threats!
Rehearsals initially started out with a deeper understanding of character motivation, and what I love about Mary’s process of doing this is that she gives specific character traits, stories, personalities, names, and even secrets to each character, including chorus members. This makes it so that every person in the production plays a crucial role in allowing the entire opera to function as a whole.
Following the character analysis, the cast immediately dove into improvisatory exploration in order to discover what kind of ability opera singers have in movement/dance. The reason this was done is because it isn’t often that opera singers fully dance while singing. Once this process was completed, we were able to finalize a great production of very specific, detail- oriented work. Our rehearsals would range between 3 and 6 hours a day in order to get all of the specifics clear and solid. Even after our final dress rehearsal with a full audience, we still rehearsed for a few hours to change, correct, and perfect many more aspects of the opera.
The work will go on and on, and I am so grateful to be a part of this cast. It takes a special group of people to be so open, available, and present in such an innovative process. I am also excited to continue to work to change up the staging for the various venues we will be visiting in South Carolina, France, and London. Toi toi toi to the whole team for our opening night tomorrow!
Thank you so much for reading!