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  Supers Go Into the Tank...
Random notes from 5 days in Santa Fe by Laurel Winzler

I had the pleasure of spending several days in Santa Fe in July, and attended several piano run-throughs of the new Thomas Ades opera The Tempest (its U.S. premier). The score was intriguing and it was disappointing not to hear it with the full orchestra, but still a treat to see the piece in the working stages. The supers in the show have an astonishing role, which apparently wasn't being talked about much so as to save the surprise for opening night. As the curtain rises, Prospero and Miranda look out over the audience, watching the wreck of a ship offshore. As they stare out over the sea, male and female supers - fully clothed in assorted suits, ties, dress shoes, party dresses and hats - begin rising out of the water at the front of the stage, stepping out of the water onto the land, and walking upstage while dripping wet. I learned later that they actually entered the water tank from the side below the stage, and swam to get into their position to "arise" from the sea. Next time we complain about what we're asked to do on stage, we should remember that at least we're not a) holding our breath, b) doing the breaststroke or c) soaking wet!

Rodney Gilfry as Prospero sounded wonderful but struggled in rehearsal with a wet slippery stage (courtesy of those drenched supers!), a bad wig, and the demand that he climb a tree with no footholds while wearing a long robe, carrying a staff and fighting to keep that same wig out of his eyes. The director and designer completed at least a half-marathon running between house and stage (inexplicably there's no bridge over the orchestra pit), and by the next rehearsal the stage surface was re-done, the tree had plenty of hand and footholds, and the bad wig was now a ponytail. Ah, the magic of the theater.
Santa Fe Opera photo at left by Ken Howard © 2006

On a further aquatic note, the site where the Santa Fe Opera House is situated used to be a dude ranch, and beyond the public spaces there are still many features of the old ranch including a lovely swimming pool. As the guest of a company member, I was able to lounge beside the pool, listening to the sounds of rehearsals and coachings drifting by, while various singers and directors and their kids splashed in the water. With the mountains in the background, it was certainly opera al fresco in a most unique way. Of course, when the lightening starts to flash, it's everyone out of the water pronto, or risk a natural auto da fe!

And for a "calling-all-supers" moment, poor Janice Watson did the longest, loneliest, most boring Dance of the Seven Veils on record in this year's Salome. Never was there a scene that cried out more for Super Handmaidens, Super Guards, Super Hebrews - anyone for the poor woman to interact with during this interminable slog towards the final, anticlimactic "flash of flesh". Whoever choreographed this mess should be required to watch it over and over and over in an endless loop, until dead from boredom...