In the Wings

Backstage glimpses with Boston Lyric Opera

So Do We all: Phyllis Pancella talks piano tech, life and musical cuts!

Mar 12, 2013 9:44:00 AM
By BLO Staff

Me with the "pastiera" (Neapolitan Easter pie) I made
to celebrate our final room run
What do sex and technical rehearsals have in common?  Okay, this may take awhile.  Tech first.

You’ve just finished room rehearsals with a run-thru in front of a small audience of volunteers and crew heads.  There was laughter, there was applause.  There
was a strong sense that the show is working, and a strong sense that what you are doing is worth watching and hearing.  You even find yourself taking a few chances, adding some details, thinking ahead, because you are finally secure enough to take in the whole
picture and can think on your feet enough to bring it even more to life.  You celebrate with a bit of pie, and you try not to cause a rotator cuff injury patting yourself on the back on the way home.

Well, kiss that goodbye, laddie-o, and welcome to piano tech.

During Friday night’s Act 2 tech, things got so dicey that at one point my nose fell off.  The guys had to change clothes six times in five minutes.  Unidentified Flying Objects swooped in and out over our heads.  During the Act 1 tech the night before, we had to stop rehearsing altogether for over an hour while it was determined whether or not the sand we’d been working with was safe.  Oh, and by the way?  We’ve had to make a few more cuts to make sure we get in under the allotted 3-hour orchestra call, so when you get a minute, could you please re-stage your aria in its new, somewhat truncated version?  kthx.

I have joked that whatever ego I had left after being thrashed about by the opera business for a couple of decades was unceremoniously destroyed by the birth and subsequent language development of my son.  So you would think that the inevitable chaos and quicksand of tech wouldn’t faze me anymore.  But it does.  In just the same way that I still sit down with a new piece of music and wonder how I will ever be able to learn and memorize the damn thing, I still come away from a piano tech feeling like an idiot.  I have forgotten how to move, how to sing, how to act, how to be funny, and I will never, ever remember how to do it.  It’s a one step forward, 37 steps back kind of night.

“But I thought everything was going well!  I thought I knew where I stood, and how everything would turn out!”  This is a vulnerable time for a lot of folks in the opera world.  But when, in the second act of COSI, Guglielmo wistfully observes, “It’s a different world from the one we’d dreamed of,” he’s not speaking of tech rehearsals.  He’s speaking of sex and romance.  He could be speaking of parenting, the economy, home renovation.  The fact that we can go from security to panic overnight (sometimes more quickly still), from confidence to uncertainty, and from hubris to humiliation, simply comes with the territory of being human.  Ask Homer.  What I feel during the tech process or what the lovers go through in COSI is a distillation of what everyone goes through in life and love-------I just think of the process of producing a live performance of opera, and other moments of intense discombobulation, as “Life Concentrate.”

A friend shared an illuminating quote the other day that I thought suited the COSI plot awfully well------the year it was written bringing home the universality of this truth.  But you can substitute intimacy, failure, or piano techs for sex, and realize just how integral to the human experience it is occasionally to have the rug pulled out from under you:

"Without sex, we would be dangerously invulnerable. We might believe we were not ridiculous. We wouldn't know rejection and humiliation so intimately. We could age respectably, get used to our privileges and think we understood what was going on. We might disappear into numbers and words alone. It is sex that creates a necessary havoc in the ordinary hierarchies of power, status, money and intelligence."
~ Alain de Botton on How to Think More About Sex (1936)

How best to consume “Life Concentrate”?  I have learned that, if I dilute it with the longview, with compassion for others experiencing the same thing, and with trust
that if I keep my feet on the ground and do what needs to be done (and let others do the same) even while the world seems to be crumbling around me, something delicious can come of it.  Oh, and I’m better off if I don’t try to drink it while patting myself on the back.  


Here are the answers to last week’s questionnaire.  While everyone is enjoying their current work very much, no one had any problem coming up with other interests
they might turn into more full time occupations.  Well, except one:  Paul said his passionate hobby has always been opera and art song, and since he’s been lucky enough to make a living at his hobby, he’s never had a “back-up plan.”  He came up with his answer because it would give him a way of staying close to the work he loves, and close to the people who do it.

You can scroll down or go to “older post” to see the original names and occupations.  Here’s how they match up:  1C, 2F, 3E, 4K, 5I (which I made up based on previous
conversations), 6H, 7J, 8D, 9M, 10L, 11A, 12G, 13B.

Topics: Cosi fan Tutte, pastiera, Phyllis Pancella, tech

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