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  Fille du Regiment rehearsal Friday open-day' at the Met

Fille du Regiment rehearsal - Friday open-day at the Met. 11am Friday 18th April 2008

This was another successful demonstration of the Gelb Dynasty way of doing business at the Met. Following an advertisement in the New York Post, I called by phone (internet was unresponsive) at the appointed hour the previous Sunday, and eventually got thru after 20 minutes of trying. We secured two free tickets in the Grand Tier, as did our friends. We all did as we were told and arrived an hour early to view some displays in the main foyer involving costumes, house organisation, special effects, lighting, scenery painting and stage modelling. These displays were all original and interesting … remote controlled revolving spotlights, on-stage illuminated handbags for Macbeth, understudy’s costumes, flaming sword, stage models (‘maquette’ is the trade term I am told), smoke making machine, etc.

I asked each representative in turn about the worst disaster in their department - with some startling responses. The special effects man had designed an exploding book for the end of Faust but one night he accidentally stapled the wires together and it refused to ignite at the crucial time. This was highly embarrassing for the performer so a large ’grovel’ was called for.

The costume lady had a very sad tale involving the death on stage of Richard Versalle (January 1996 - Makropoulos Secret). They required a new costume for his understudy for the very next performance (it was not clear if this was due to the singer’s size, respect for the dead or if the original was damaged in resuscitation attempts). After two full days of sewing over a cold weekend, the next performance was also cancelled - this time due to a massive blizzard which shut down the entire US east coast.

I had two disasters recounted by the sets representative. The new Madama Butterfly design had a huge wall of dangling flowers which were rolled up after the first night. When unrolling them for the second performance it was found that they had all stuck together and it took a Herculean effort of every available pair of hands in the building to separate the mass of rolled up flowers, strand by strand to help get the disentanglement sorted before curtain time.

In another disaster there was a scrim across the stage in an opera which ripped right across as it was being taken out. Apparently these scrims have heavy balance weights on each side to stop them wrinkling but these obviously are meant to be removed before raising the delicate fabric. The weights were left in place on this occasion and the curtain predictably ripped right across its top section. As there was another performance in a few days’ time a careful sewing job was needed to first cut the break cleanly on both sides and then resuture the smooth edges with invisible thread in time. Fortunately there was only a small strip lost and enough spare to use the same scrim. A replacement at such short notice would not have been possible.

The sets person explained about the loss of an expensive stage model which had been left in a box which was taken accidentally for trash. These models can take two of three people a number of weeks to make up and so such a loss would have been a calamity. The box was on board the trash truck some blocks away from Lincoln Center before it was stopped and the model retrieved intact for posterity. One of these very models was on show representing the three overlaid maps making the set and three mountains behind the Fille du Regiment design.

It is not appropriate to comment on a rehearsal so suffice it to say that honour was satisfied and the Monday Gala opening should be a swish event mirroring the London success of this production with practically the same cast from a year or more ago.

After the performance the (exhausted) singers, actors, conductor and production team sat on the Act 2 set and were interviewed by Margaret Junthwaite. We were given lots of insights into geography (hint), comedy, acting, stagecraft and other matters.

All in all a real treat for us out-of-towners – and locals alike. I am very grateful for having been able to attend this splendid event. It has got to be good for public relations and would have cost the company little or nothing since there were some generous sponsors named who defrayed the additional expenses over a closed rehearsal.

Andrew Byrne ..
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