Super News


Casting News
Rehearsal Schedules

More Fun Stuff!

The Super Handbook
San Francisco Opera
Members Only

Spearheadnews.com is not officially affiliated with any performing arts organization.
All photographs remain the property of their copyright holders.

©2006 SpearheadNews
All Rights Reserved


Super Humans by Ulrica PAGE TWENTY-EIGHT

Tuesday, November Fourth, Was a Great Night To Be at the Opera

Whilst many of us were a tad resentful at having to be sequestered at the Opera House when we would much rather have been at home watching the election drama unfold on CNN, the atmosphere backstage was charged. The heightened choral singing during the Coronation Scene has been well reported on other pages but as word spread, tears of joy were shed in the corridors and disbelief reigned in the subterranean dressing rooms.

A few minutes later SR ASM Morgan Robinson (who, a few days earlier, had done a spot-on Halloween impersonation of that Alaskan Governor whose name I have conveniently forgotten) reported that during the offstage murmuring of the two dissolute monks, Russian basso profundo Vladimir Ognovenko could clearly be heard declaring “Meester Obama ees President.”

At the top of Tuesday’s show, Spearhead Editor Mark Burstein told Sam Ramey that he had cast his vote for Boris.

Many of us gathered around Philippe Arbeit’s laptop, watching those states turn blue and all of those electoral votes head Barack Obama’s way.

The elation of the Democratic victory was tempered greatly by the sad realization, the following day, that some 18,000 recent marriages had potentially been invalidated by the civil-rights-removing Proposition 8. The State of California should be deeply ashamed that this Prop passed.

Email Inbox

Although always one to accept criticism gracefully, when Ulrica’s personal hygiene is brought under scrutiny, she sees red.

In last night’s email after the Piano Dress of Blah Bohème she (and all the production’s Supers) received a note from her redoubtable PSC. “Complaint!” it read. Apparently someone had made mention that a certain individual had a noticeably unpleasant body odor. The PSC gamely made suggestions as to how we can better shield others from our odiferous emissions – such as showering at any time (one wonders what W&M would think of us taking a mid-performance spritz under the showerhead) and cautioning us to practice restraint in the use of perfumes and colognes.

As Super Committee Member Alan Goes so succinctly put it, “It stinks.”

  • Of course, Ulrica is curious. An anonymous complaint holds no weight in her witchy opinion so she is left to ponder the question, “Who is doing the complaining?”

  • Could it be the dressers who have so much experience working with the dance community and their notoriously sweat-soaked costumes?

  • Could it be one of the other Supers who hang out in the men’s cressing room, which on some days has an overwhelming smell of rotting vegetation – a result, no doubt, of corners cut in the plumbing during the 1996 overhaul down there?

  • Could it be someone from the Costume Department, who are no strangers to the accumulated scent of the ages acquired by some of our productions?

  • Could it be a singer of international stature who, last season, was so doused in Chanel No. 5 that choristers recoiled from her as if from Rosco Stage Fog.

Just who is being so sensitive?? We would love to know.

Whilst Ulrica tries to shower on a bi-weekly basis she has been known to rely on her closest friends to advise her, discreetly, when the Right Guard is failing. Having never previously received a mass emailing about it, she consulted her trusted colleague Miss Manners to enlighten her on the correct protocol.

Gentle Reader,

Whilst incredulous that anyone would allow themselves to have an unpleasant personal scent, Miss Manners reluctantly admits that in certain circumstances people engaged in the performing arts, due to the burden of weighty costumes, strenuous movement, and intense lighting situations (not to mention nervous conditions and poor eating habits), can cause discomfort to the olfactory tracts of their fellow performers.

The solution to this would not be to send a missive to all members of the performing troupe lest each of them suffer lingering doubt as to the quality of their personal hygiene. Miss Manners feels it would be much kinder to address the individual in question directly. If a discreet whisper in the ear is not effective, then perhaps a small reminder to the pungent effect one might have on others – such as a small, attractively shaped and scented guest-sized bar of soap or a travel-sized roll-on anti-perspirant – left in the individual’s dressing room drawer should clearly convey the message.

David Hockney; Boy Taking a Shower, Beverly Hills (1964)

Grateful for Miss M's input, Ulrica is left to wonder if this could, in fact, be another example of the Super Community being held responsible for the actions (or lack thereof in this case) of others.

Take for example the football in L'Elisir d’Amore. Yes, the football that went bouncing into the orchestra pit during a recent performance, destroying a member of the woodwind section’s instrument in the process?

Blame immediately landed (no pun intended) on the participating Supernumeraries when, in fact, the accident was, evidently, caused by the mishandling of the prop by one of the non-supering members of the cast. Hmmmm…

NB: Ulrica will wisely refrain from comment on the use of highly destructive sports equipment in the operatic world.

Similarly, during a recent performance of Idomoneo a panicked cry went out that one of the Supers was (we all know better) taking offstage photos with a flash! Say it isn’t so. Upon further investigation it turns out that none of the Supers present (clad only in layers of Kryolan Tan Number 2) could have possibly secreted a camera on their person and that the “man in red” snapping away was none other than Idomoneo himself, the hyperactive tenor Kurt Streit! An official apology for this assault on the integrity of the Supers is still awaited.

Perhaps we Supers narrowly escaped blame for the undignified exit of a certain unnamed chorister during the curtain calls for Tuesday’s Boris Godunov. Had we been asked to stay for the post-opening curtain calls we would undoubtedly have been accused of pushing said chorister down the stairs when the truth seems to be that, in a rush to be first in line for wig removal, he/she left the stage prematurely and in the dark. Happily no serious injury was reported but the sound of the hapless chorister crashing earthwards drowned out the (admittedly thin) end-of-show applause.

Those particular steps have proved to be extremely challenging. At one prior run-through Charlie Lichtman stumbled at that very spot. Haste was not the culprit that time, though. He was, at the time, descending the stairs in his voluminous Snow Queen ensemble carrying an enormous, at-eye-level, vision-obscuring icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Assistance descending the stairs has, gladly, been forthcoming since that mishap.

Another surprising Inbox item was the note of a few weeks ago that we Supers were now forbidden to talk to backstage crew because of complaints from the stagehands. Whilst professional courtesy and safety are, at all times, foremost in any Super’s mind, Ulrica again has to ask, “Who is being so touchy?” Are the brothers and sisters of Local …. too polite to abruptly leave a conversation when called upon to do their work? She thinks not. Nevertheless the text of said email bears repeating:

Stage Management has asked me to remind you of the proper procedure for dealing with problems/issues that occur during performance backstage. Just as we have rehearsed all of our movements down to a level of great accuracy, the stage crew has been similarly choreographed and rehearsed to ensure that complex scene changes happen seamlessly and flawlessly. Distracting a member of the crew is dangerous and could potentially disrupt the flow of the show.

We have long been held responsible, it seems, for all backstage chatter when, according to Ulrica’s random polling of offstage performers, much of that chatter comes from more unassailable sections of the Company.

Great Moments to be A Super Onstage, 2008 Edition

... would have to include being a soldier during the darkly beautiful St. Basil scene in this original 1869 version of Boris Godunov (not to be confused with the en traveste version Doris Godunov). As Boris and his fear-stricken family enter upstage the Russian people are begging for him to feed them.

The rich, massive choral swell is then cut by the plaintive clarity of Andrew Bidlack’s Simpleton, exposing Boris as a murderer, bringing lots of goose bumps to this Super’s arms, reminding him why he does it and suffer the indignities we are increasingly subject to.

BTW, does anyone remember two more handsome Adler Fellows than Mr B and lofty bass Ken Kellogg? Check them and their prodigious talents out, along with the rest of this year’s stellar Adlers, at their end-of-year concert on Saturday December 6th at 8 PM.

Confessions of Alyokah

Alyokah and friend

Yes, Ulrica admits that she, too, is merely mortal. As so thoughtfully pointed out in the Opera Tattler, the timing of her opening night performance of Alyokah (she’s thinking of changing her name from Ulrica to Alyokah) in Boris was a hair off: In Scene 4 when Grigory was to make his escape, one of the Supernumeraries got into place too soon;, he could have easily caught Grigory if he had wanted to, and it was all very unconvincing

Of course other fingers might point towards diminutive Directrix Julia Pevzner and her last minute, unrehearsed change to the ending of Act One, but Ulrica/Alyokah would protest such calumny and take full responsibility for her unconvincing performance. One hopes it will be her last…

Major Bowes

Bohème Super Jim Bowes’ chocolate-soldier costume as leader of the onstage banda prompted Walt Thorp to name him "Major Bowes" of the famous radio talent show The Major Bowes Amateur Hour, which in turn prompted Ulrica to remember the unlikely debut of one of the greatest singers of the 20th century on that very show.

On April 7th, 1935, a 12-year-old girl from New York by the name of Anna Maria Kalogeropoulos sang an abbreviated version of Un Bel Di under the pseudonym of Nina Foresti. Incredibly, a tape of that performance was discovered some years ago by opera historian, the late John Ardoin. Fifteen years after that broadcast, Anna Maria Kalogeropoulos would embark on one of the most remarkable careers in opera and find immense fame under the name Maria Callas.

Incidentally, her Major Bowes performance was given a D rating with the note “faint possibility for the future.”

An Inca Princess

Having just returned from a brief visit to the land of the Incas, the navel of the Earth, Peru, Ulrica was saddened to hear of the passing of a truly remarkable singer, Yma Sumac, last week. Miss Sumac shot to prominence in the 1950s with a voice that covered a range of four-to-five octaves, in her first recording, Voice of the Xtabay. Despite persistent rumours that she was really from Brooklyn and her name an palindrome of Amy Camus, Miss Sumac really did hail from Peru, claiming to be a descendant of the Inca Atahualpa.

Although her voice and fame faded over the years, Miss Sumac left a unique recording and performing legacy. I was witness to one of her later performances about ten years ago at the Great American Music Hall. The opening act, a didgeridoo performer, set the bizarre tone for the evening. Miss Sumac, then in her seventies, appeared in what can only be described as a homemade, apple-green chiffon, breast-revealing dress. Her backup band seemed to be from a different show business world and Miss Sumac’s frustrations were taken out on the poor bandleader, saltily and within range of the microphone, making her expletives clearly audible to the adoring audience. Whenever she would aim for a high note she would signal its somewhat unsure arrival by resting her left index finger on her right cheek as in this, much earlier, photograph.

Miss Sumac had her friend and personal assistant, the divinely named Damon Devine, apply her full 1950s make up everyday until the bitter end. God Bless Her. She was a one of a kind.

Trivia Question

Which major Verdi opera features an Inca Prince in its cast of characters?

Other Events

Camp Followers might also be interested to know about ACT’s upcoming production of Souvenir, a Tony Award-nominated “fantasia” on the life of the delusional, singularly untalented operatic phenomenon, Florence Foster Jenkins. Don’t miss it.

Also try not to miss the repeat of the HD broadcast of the Met’s new production of Dr. Atomic on Wednesday November 19th at selected theatres. We who were involved in the 2005 world premiere have been dismayed to hear how the Met’s PR has made it seem to be a Met brainchild (they have a new director and concept of the opera – the Met GD apparently did not like our production), but for us it will remain forever Peter Sellars’ achievement. Happily both the Amsterdam co-production of and John Else’s entertaining documentary on the SFO staging, Wonders Are Many, have just been released on DVD and are available from Amazon.com. Michael Strickland also recommends John Adams newly published autobiography, Hallelujah Junction, which happily includes a photo of SFO Dr. Atomic Supernumeraries onstage. Rumours persist that an earlier Adams/Sellars collaboration, Nixon in China, will be presented at SFO next season.

Also coming up will be the Annual Super Bash , an exciting and frolicksome event – returning to the Fort Mason location, which many of us loved a few years ago. One advantage of this space is that we have a real stage on which to perform a skit. The ever lovely Sally Jo LaRue will be making a welcome return as the skit presenter.

Round and About

Spotted in the Mission District:

Elixir for Dysfunctional Families

Incidentally, Steve Carp’s turn as Dulcimara’s assistant in the above-mentioned Italian repertory staple is not to be missed. To make sure you don’t miss it, the SFO is offering 50% discounts, meaning you can get a seat for as little as $12.50. That is an incredible bargain - hardly more than a bad Holiday Movie.

Great to see some new, enthusiastic faces among the old, embittered ones. Welcome to Steve Carp (now in his second, very full season with a mind-boggling six shows this year), Conservatory of Music student Timothy Artusio (quite prominent in Boris scene 14), Felix Gallego (Tote Stadt and L’Elisir)  and floral designer Leo Pribble (seen to great advantage in Boris and Idomoneo.)

Wonderful to hear from erstwhile "It"’ Super Bradly Hamilton, now happily settled with his partner Thom in a new home in Westminster, Vermont, following his retirement from the SFO stage in 2006 and subsequent World Tour.

A little-known fact about Westminster, VT: it is the place of the first bloodshed in the American Revolutionary War!

Commiserations to Junior Supes Kathleen Hatch and Seth Durrant – their red-carpet moment in Boris was unceremoniously cut at the last minute. Sadly it is the lot of a Super to be quickly disposed of but it’s always worth remembering that a plum role can be just around the corner for any one of us.

Congratulations to all who baked, brought, and bought at the last Super Bake Sale. The final tally was a record-shattering four figures. Party On!

Brava to Susan Anderson for the wonderfully inventive Opening Night treats this season: custom-engraved

And, finally, thanks to Super Supe Mike Harvey for his hard work as the PSC on three productions this fall, his tireless efforts in maintaining the Web site and his much appreciated patience in waiting for this latest round of drivel from Strega Ulrica.

Bye for now -- I desperately need to freshen up for this evening’s performance of Bore Us.

Trivia Answer

Don Alvaro, Leonora’s lover in La Forza del Destino, is a half-caste Inca prince -- but honours to Charlie Lichtman for suggesting Verdi's Alzira, which is actually set in Peru.

Page twenty-seven   More Ulrica    page twenty-nine