By Molly Pinson Simoneau
Around ten ‘til seven, I arrive at the church building, gather what I need out of the back seat of my car and walk inside where I find my fellow cast and crew members already gathering and preparing to rehearse The Merry Widow. I set my score, water bottle, and character shoes down next to Erin Winkler, a soprano with impeccable comedic instinct, who is singing the role of Natalie in our performance.
“How’s it going?” I say, as I sit down to change my shoes. “Pretty good, how are you? Feeling better?” She asks, remembering that I had a throat infection last week. “I’m much better, but still not totally healed. My voice is still tiring out easily, you know?” “I know. I’m still not 100 percent yet either.” She says. She had come down with laryngitis a few weeks ago, but recently has been sounding as good as ever, and I told her so. Sometimes it seems like all we singers talk about is our various ailments, and how to cure them. When your instrument is literally a part of your body, it becomes a priority.
I notice that Quong Van, Loudoun Lyric Opera’s music director and pianist, just walked in, and I have something I want to discuss with him. “Hey Quong, can I go over something in the Can-Can with you?”
“Sure.” He gets his score out of his backpack and opens it to the scene that takes place at the iconic Maxim’s restaurant in Paris.
I’ve been having some trouble with breath-management in the number, trying to reconcile dancing and singing at once. “If we can take a bit of a longer pause here,” I say pointing to a place in the score where the music sort of shifts gears, “Then I think I’ll have a chance to catch my breath.” I explain that I’d like to be able to fully exhale and then inhale again before moving on.
Quong agrees that it should work, and by the time we’re done discussing it, it’s time to begin rehearsal. We start with a sing-through of the very same number and try it with the longer pause.
“Ok,” says our stage director, Meredith Bean McMath (a name Loudoun’s theater goers should recognize as the head of Run Rabbit Run productions, and author of the locally popular play All for the Union based on an episode of Loudoun’s civil war history), “let’s do the whole number with the choreography, from the top.” She talks through a quick review of some choreography that was added to the beginning of the number a week before as everyone makes their way to their opening places.
Quong begins playing the music that opens the scene on the upright piano in the corner; it echoes the Act I aria about the carefree atmosphere at Maxim’s, sung by baritone Gregory Stuart who is playing the lead role of Count Danilo. Then, I hear my cue line and the music shifts from a lilting waltz to a sort of gallop. I prance out with six other can-can dancers or “grisettes,” and together, we perform the show-stopping can-can, which frenetically increases its pace with each iteration of the refrain, “Ritantou! Ritantirelle! Et voila, que je suis belle!”
By the end we’re kicking our feet up fast and I can’t help but get caught up in the sheer fun of it, when finally we strike our last pose, and the tenor next to me whispers in my ear, “Breathe,” as I pant hard, trying to recover.
I admit, I’m not quite as physically fit as I’d like to be. But, there’s no time to worry about that, because we’re getting notes from Meredith and our choreographer, Kelly Gray, and getting ready to run it again. In French, the word they use for practice or rehearsal is “répetition,” and it is absolutely apt. We run the can-can three more times before everyone’s satisfied.
Later on in the evening, our two stars, Gregory Stuart and Melissa Chavez, a glittering soprano who is playing the title role of Hanna Glawari sing their final duet, also known as the Merry Widow Waltz. As someone who is not just a performer of opera, but a huge fan, one of my favorite things about rehearsal is just listening to my fellow singers practice their craft.
For a small, young company, Loudoun Lyric Opera has some truly amazing talent among its ranks. As Melissa and Gregory sing, I relax and just enjoy the music – but not for long, because now it’s time to rehearse the final number which uses every voice in the cast. We haven’t visited this one in a while, but after a quick review of the choreography we’re going full tilt.
When we’re given our last notes and reminders for the evening, everyone disperses and begins packing up their things. Melissa and Gregory decide to go over their duet one more time. Everyone’s saying “Good night,”and “See you Friday,” when we get to do this again. I’m exhausted, as I expect my cast mates are as well, but I also couldn’t be happier. Doing opera is a joy, and seeing opera is a joy too. I think I speak for the entire cast and crew of Loudoun Lyric Opera’s Merry Widow when I say how I just can’t wait to share all this fun with the rest of Loudoun County.
The Merry Widow opens at the Franklin Park Arts Center on Friday, April 13 and runs through April 22. For more information, visit www.LoudounLyricOpera.com.