Most people don’t spend their lives at the opera, although depending on the composer and the evening in question, it might seem that way. But I can say that I have been at the opera, actually in this building, 45 of my 49 years. No, I am not a phantom living in some part of the sub-basement near the stream that runs under the theatre. (Yes, there’s a stream and no, there are no people down there floating around in small boats wearing opulent costumes--at least not that we know of.)
I came here when I was five years old and unlike most people, I never left. My mother Lola joined the chorus in 1967, and I joined along with her. I loved going to work with her and being in the theatre. I spent many a night doing homework in her dressing room but I also attended performances, hung out back stage and on many occasions was treated to free makeup or hair sessions with one of the wig or makeup artists. Ask any of them who still work here, and they’ll tell you what a tiny pest I was. “Richard, PLEASE make me up!” I’d shriek. It was one of my favorite things. I always wanted to try on my mother’s costumes, and oftentimes her wonderful dressers would double as babysitters. My sixth birthday was celebrated in a hotel room in Los Angeles while the opera was on tour one year prior to the existence of the LA Opera. In the early days prior to very specific clauses in union contracts about not performing on holidays, we’d spend many Thanksgivings in the basement dressing room exchanging leftovers from a very early dinner at home in order to accommodate the performance time. Another fun memory was a pot luck organized by the “Italian Corner” ladies (the corner where they sat in their dressing room) for the rest of the ladies in the chorus. I was probably the only kid in her school who had friends who were in their 30s.
I could also be seen onstage occasionally and not always because I was cast. Once I was found crawling onto the stage during a performance of Magic Flute at Zellerbach in Berkeley and picked up by the suspenders by then-General Director Kurt Herbert Adler. On another occasion, Adler commented to my mother that at the age of five, I was one of the only people still awake after a five-hour performance of Die Meistersinger.
As the years went by I discovered my own love for the stage and appeared in many productions as a supernumerary, or ‘super.’ One evening I distinctly remember sitting at the stage door waiting for my mother and thinking to myself, “I’d like to work here someday.” I went on to study drama and acting at SF State University and upon graduation, preferring a steady paycheck to the daily anxiety of the audition process and after a friend suggested to mom that there might be an opening, I called the then-house stage director to inquire about the position. I interviewed and was hired as a seasonal rehearsal assistant in 1987. [Above: Valentina and her mother Lola in a dressing room at the opera house.]
Be sure to check back later this week to hear the rest of Valentina's story...