Opera is the turducken of classical music: monumental, multi-layered, inconceivable to anyone who hasn’t experienced it live, and endlessly satisfying if you just sink your teeth into it and let all the different flavors and textures do their thing.
But if you strip away all the drama and glory, it’s a cottage industry that employs, in this city at least, hundreds of people. So far this season, the opera involved 345 people for “Turandot,” and 240 for “Der Rosenkavalier.”
As an arts and culture reporter, I’ve always felt that zooming out is one of the best ways to zoom in. I don’t just study what’s inside the frame, but what’s around the frame. What’s behind or beneath the stage? Who crafted the musician, not just the music? This isn’t some analytical gimmick. It’s just that the more I know about the context, the easier it is to evaluate how each minute detail fits — or doesn’t — with that whole.
In that spirit, today voiceofsandiego.org is launching a week-long series called Countdown to Curtain. From now until the opening day of “Faust,” April 23, Sam Hodgson and I will be around to meet dozens of people and witness key moments. Yesterday we watched as they first hung up the huge “Faust” banner on the front of the Civic Theatre, and we’ll be checking in all the way up to when the lights dim on opening night. We’ll bring you updates, with snippets and longer installments, and at the end, you’ll have a window into some of the complexities of opera.
We’ll ask: What do all those people do? How many hours of labor does it take to put on one show? How far back do those preparations start? How do the moods and emotions of all these people evolve over the course of the week? And for every note the audience hears on stage, how many words were exchanged off stage to get that instant just right?
These are pragmatic questions, on one level. With tickets starting at $35 and the best seats costing what some people earn in a week, opera is decidedly not a budget-friendly affair, and personnel costs are one slice of the budgetary pie. The financial challenges of sustaining this grand old art is old news. But what’s not often reported is how a diversity of forces and goals come together in opera, allowing something as exhilarating and volatile as live art to unfold as safely and predictably as possible.