Backstage at San Francisco Opera > October 2013 > A Double Debut
A Double Debut
Today, pianist Robert Mollicone shares some reflections about his second and last season as an Adler Fellow. After completing his undergraduate and graduate studies at Boston University's College of Fine Arts, Robert was a member of the Spectrum Resident Artist Program at Virginia Opera and the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program at the Washington National Opera. He was a participant in the 2011 Merola Opera Program. As an Adler Fellow, Robert has assisted on productions including The Magic Flute, Nixon in China, Moby-Dick, and The Secret Garden as well as productions with the Merola Opera Program. He has also worked with Boston Lyric Opera, Opera North, and the Baltimore Symphony. This season, he made his conductiong debut with San Francisco Opera at Opera in the Park in September, served as prompter for the world premiere of Dolores Claiborne, and will serve on the music staff of The Flying Dutchman. Below are his thoughts on his first time as a prompter and his first time conducting the San Francisco Opera Orchestra.

Since beginning my Adler Fellowship in January of 2012, I’ve been given increasingly large responsibilities both with my peers in the program and on the mainstage. At the nascence of my career, I’m so deeply grateful to be working my way to ‘maestrodom’ the old fashioned way – by getting a taste of all the musical jobs that need to be done here at the War Memorial! This fall, I made a few huge steps (at least, so they felt) in furthering my knowledge and experience onstage and off – that is, my prompting debut in the house with our world premiere of Dolores Claiborne, as well as my conducting debut with the peerless San Francisco Opera Orchestra.

So what exactly was my job as prompter? Prompting as a stage device has existed since the time of Shakespeare, and is still occasionally used in straight theater as well as opera. On the operatic stage, it’s the prompter’s job not only to provide the safety net of the next line to a singer, but also to help coordinate the stage and orchestra – no small feat with modern scenic design and stage direction keeping our singers on the move and sometimes very far upstage of the orchestra! There are a few different styles of prompting with varying gestures and proportions of how much text is given, up to the discretion of the prompter and the needs of individual singers. Typically at San Francisco Opera, we only use prompters for brand new works, the longer German pieces, or repertoire works in which we’ve been confined to a shortened rehearsal period for any number of reasons.
(Above: Maestro Mollicone conducts the San Francisco Opera Orchestra in Golden Gate Park, 2013. Photo by Cory Weaver.)
 
It’s been a huge growth experience for me to have been the person relied upon for support during our performances of Claiborne, particularly having had three amazing women in the title role at some point or another. I had known Pat Racette and Cathy Cook only peripherally through work on other shows (for example, I played chorus rehearsals for Pat’s Iphigenie en Tauride in DC), but through this experience we came to enjoy an amazing musical and working relationship. This once again affirmed my choice to pursue a life as a collaborative artist – making music together is infinitely more satisfying than practicing Rachmaninov all alone 6 hours a day…

While preparations to get Pat ready for Claiborne in just a few short weeks were at a full tilt, I was given another tremendous opportunity by the company – to cut my teeth conducting the orchestra for one number in the recent concert in Golden Gate Park. Maestro Luisotti, who had his hands full with the rest of the concert, not to mention Mephistopheles, Falstaff, and The Verdi Requiem, thought that perhaps this would be a good chance to see what I’m made of, particularly in my conducting ‘home base’ of American musical theatre (my first interest in the give-and-take relationship of stage and music came from conducting productions of The Wizard of Oz, Babes in Arms, and Little Shop of Horrors in high school). It was a whirlwind process – I got the score on a Tuesday afternoon, had 6 minutes to rehearse at the end of the Wednesday morning sitzprobe, and put it in front of the public on Sunday afternoon! This was a time to be grateful for technique and careful score study, not to mention my generous, attentive, and fabulously talented colleagues in the orchestra. It was a real pleasure to be spending time with them at the podium after  many rehearsals spent peeking over a conductor’s shoulder from the front row! After our successful performance, I mentioned to my parents that it felt like I’d just graduated Driver’s Ed and been given the keys to a Maserati! As my Fellowship comes to a close in the next two months, I’ll treasure both the memories and the valuable lessons this fall has taught me!
Posted: 10/11/2013 10:53:28 AM by San Francisco Opera
Filed under: Adler


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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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