A corridor bustles with a couple dozen people in various stages of character — wigs askew, makeup in progress, costumes untied — about 20 minutes before the final dress rehearsal for San Diego Opera’s production of Madama Butterfly. A tenor’s warm-up arpeggios punctuate the din from down the hall. Chorus members adjust the obis holding up their kimonos.
The transportation into this world is sudden, the clamor instantly greeting whoever happens to walk through the artists’ entrance of the Civic Center Theatre on opera night.
Down a few hallways, a clock backstage reads 6:14 and 51, 50, 49, 48 seconds. The curtain is due to rise at 6:30. A petite woman with wavy, short silver hair notices a visitor who’s come to see her work. “I’m going to be a little bit uncommunicative right now,” she says. “We’ve got some major problems going on.”
Peters rejoins a cluster of crew members puzzling over an unexpected hiccup: A piece of the set, a flag panel rigged to descend from the ceiling, has torn and can’t be used.
For Mary Yankee Peters, who has been stage manager for San Diego Opera’s productions for 20 years, cacophony and crisis are part of a night’s work. The only way her work goes unnoticed — the ultimate goal of someone behind the scenes — is if everything goes off without a hitch.
Peters dashes to pick up a radio handset. Her calm voice belies her harried expression as she delivers the news to the cast that the set they’ve been practicing with for weeks will be suddenly different tonight, their first run in front of a full audience.