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Coming to opera in a most unusual way, Walt Thorp was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam when he bought a used reel-to-reel tape recorder from the pilot he was replacing. Unfortunately, there was only one classical tape that went with the deal—Vladimir Askenazy playing Schubert piano music. When Walt finally made it to the Saigon PX, the only classical music available was the ’66 recording of Norma with Dame Joan Sutherland and Marilyn Horne and Walt discovered that opera was to his liking. In fact the first opera he saw at SFO was the 1998 production of Norma with Carol Vaness; when the opportunity presented itself for him to super in a later production of Norma, gladly signed on.
Supering for Walt began when he heard a radio advertisement for “smaller”-sized guys to fit costumes for the 1998 summer production of Carmen. With some trepidation he walked up to the North Stage Door for the casting call and was met by the affable Albert Goodwyn. After being cast in three different roles for that production, he was hooked.
That fall he was asked to super in Tristan & Isolde and although he was not keen on Wagner’s music, agreed and then promptly revised his views, becoming very fond of the composer’s work. The following summer he was cast in Götterdammerung and was most pleased to be selected (with Lucas Rebston) to be one of only two Supers in the immolation scene with Jane Eaglen—he remembers that despite sweating profusely under his Teutonic costume, he would get gooseflesh when she sang her final aria.
Walt developed a special professional relationship with another powerhouse artist, mezzo-soprano Delora Zajick [right]. Not only did he appear onstage with her during her riveting portrayal of Azucena in the 2002 production of Il Trovatore but he also serendipitously became her onsite "orthopedic consultant."
Walt has been in 22 productions thus far and today archives his photos in his laptop, but has albums for the earlier productions and memorabilia from all of them.
One of his favorite roles was that of one of two horses in the ’99 production of Louise with Renée Fleming. Although it was rather embarrassing to be galloping about with a cardboard box "horse" decorated with a rope tail and painted face during rehearsals, the payoff was being invited to Ms. Fleming’s dressing room for photos so that she could send them to her two daughters, who were enchanted with the "horses" when they saw them in the costume department. (The ornate horses were reported to have been from the original production in Paris.) Also during the run of Louise, tenor Jerry Hadley [left] pulled Walt into the doorway of his dressing room to serenade him with a rousing rendition of “Happy Trails” and several days later, during a photo shoot, Samuel Ramey decided to “ride” Walt’s horse on the back stairs.
Another good part for him was in the Ballad of Baby Doe when he was selected to play Ruth Ann Swenson’s cousin Jack [right].
For one L’Elisir d’Amore the Supers were to have new costumes made. His fit him perfectly; however, we were reputed to be a troop of misfits and apparently the costumers were not informed. The crestfallen look on the man’s face who had been working for weeks on Walt's costume was a sad sight. But he reports that with Eddy Gordillo as part of the “F” Troop a truly silly and delightful time was had by all. Rodney Gilfry and John Del Carlo also contributed to the joyful antics backstage.
For the most embarrassing moment, we return to Norma (Act III) when the Supers were dressed only in thongs (and we’re not talkin’ flip-flops here); Walt was exiting upstage left when he realized that he was experiencing a very serious non-nuclear “fall-out” incident. Catherine Nagelstad (Norma) and the ASM who witnessed this horror were most amused. Walt realized that he had to go right back out to remove Pollione’s armor (downstage right!) and had little time to ensure that there would not be a repeat exposure. Fortunately everything stayed in place!
Walt plays piano, primarily for his own enjoyment, and has a fondness for Schubert. He took trombone in Junior HS but was too small to handle it and later failed to master the trumpet because he could not double/triple tongue. As a child he reports the trauma of tap dancing; his last performance was before a father/son Boy Scout banquet where he came out in his custom-made satin tuxedo, danced his little number, and decided that if he were to make it to graduation in seven years, he needed a significantly lower profile.
He earned his bachelor's degree in Secondary Education from the University of South Dakota, master's degree in Special Education from the University of Northern Colorado, and attended Northwestern University Medical School for his training in orthotics (orthopedic bracing). Having grown up in the midwest, Walt just kept moving further west until he finally arrived in the Bay Area in 1981 (eight years in San Jose) and the last twenty in San Francisco. When he first moved to San Francisco, he was the director of orthotics and prosthetics at Shriners Children's Hospital but when they decided to move the hospital to Sacramento, he returned to private practice. In addition to supering, he enjoys skiing, gardening, and traveling—particularly to Italy. He and his partner, fellow super Ali Celik [left], are off to New Zealand in October to celebrate a special birthday.
Now in his third year on the Super committee, Walt very much enjoys the wonderful friendship that has developed among his fellow members as they work in behalf of all Supers. It has been interesting for him to see the varied issues that come up that need to be addressed by the committee in consultation with the House or solely by the committee. April Busch and Kristina Chang have been most supportive of the committee—as they are to all Supers—and Walt feels privileged to work with such talented and gifted people as they work behind the scenes.
In closing, Walt wanted to express his great appreciation and admiration for all his fellow Supers who have been part of his opera " family": "They are such a fun, talented group of men and women who have given me great joy to get to know and share the stage with ." Additionally, he wanted to thank all the choristers, dressers, ASMs, stage crew, and members of the orchestra, wigs & makeup, costume, and props departments, and many, many more who have enriched his life.