Backstage at San Francisco Opera > April 2012 > Confessions of a Workshopaholic
Confessions of a Workshopaholic
Overture Workshops are very informative, and I’m not just speaking as a frequent SFO supernumerary and opera lover. I attended the Overture: Opera Workshops for Adults four-session series in fall 2011. These workshops offer a lot of information in a very short time, including some worthwhile participation.

On a side note, I usually do not like participation. When I hear participation, my immediate response is to think of audience members being broken up into groups and each group trying to put together some skit like we were all are forced to do on the first day of school, but I’m happy to report it was not that way at all! The participation exercises themselves are interesting, and the workshops are aimed at an intelligent audience. [Below: Participants prepare to be directed in a staging exercise.]

I learned many wonderful things but I will list just a few of the highlights here: Session 2 was about musicians, singers and coaches. I was impressed by the caliber of the members of the San Francisco Orchestra, their education and background and how they continue to work on their music with their own teachers. I learned fascinating tidbits about some of the instruments. For example, who knew there are so many different “mouth joints” (mouthpieces) that a flutist can use? I learned that each person in a section has a role, e.g. principal vs. 2nd musician. I learned that music sheets can be wrong, and if so they have to be corrected, and lastly, I learned that the Adler coaches/accompanists also act as assistants to the conductor.

The Session 3 participants were given the opportunity to stand on part of the set for Heart of a Soldier. We were able to view the set up close and learn about the challenges and considerations that went into making sure that the set worked and had all the appropriate props for each performance. We learned about the engineering and building of the set for Heart of a Soldier, and what it was like working on a world premiere opera from the point of view of some members of the production department staff. [Left: Former Adler Fellow Leah Crocetto demonstrates good singing technique for Overture participants.]

In Session 4 we heard one of Liu’s arias from Turandot (sung by San Francisco Conservatory of Music student Julie Adams) and watched director Jose Maria Condemi interpret the meaning of the aria by adding staging to the performance. 

We even got a taste of what it felt like to perform. In Session 2 the speaker treated us like real singers by having us all get up and perform a breathing exercise. In Session 4 we were “directed” and treated like real supernumeraries on the stage. Jose Maria directed us in a scene from Act I of last season’s Turandot.  

I truly enjoyed all of the workshops I attended—they were very educational, fun and inspiring. I learned many things that I would have never known otherwise! I was face to face with creative members of the production teams and got the inside story by learning firsthand from actual orchestra members, department heads, singers, and directors. [Right: Assistant Costume Director Christopher Verdosci explains the magic of costuming.]

I highly recommend the Overture Workshops to any opera fan who is looking for extra information and enrichment. They are like seminars…but a lot more fun!

The next four-session series of Overture Workshops is scheduled for four consecutive Mondays from April 23 to May 14.

Visit for more information. 

Posted: 4/13/2012 1:22:12 PM by Helen Lew (Supernumerary)
Filed under: adult-education


Backstage at San Francisco Opera is a fascinating, fast-moving, mysterious and sacred space for the Company’s singers, musicians, dancers, technicians and production crews. Musical and staging rehearsals are on-going, scenery is loaded in and taken out, lighting cues are set, costumes and wigs are moved around and everything is made ready to receive the audience. From the principal singers, chorus and orchestra musicians to the creative teams for each opera, in addition to the many talented folks who don’t take a bow on stage, this blog offers unique insight, both thought-provoking and light-hearted, into the life backstage at San Francisco Opera.


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