Backstage at San Francisco Opera > October 2013 > Falstaff = Running and singing. In a corset.
Falstaff = Running and singing. In a corset.
It’s 6:54 pm and I’m warming up for the opening night of Falstaff; although not in the way one might imagine, scales and such. Instead, I’m doing lunges, hamstring stretches and sun salutations. Just as my muscles are loosening up comes a knock at the door from my (wonderful) makeup artist and the gears of the show begin to move. Soon “Places!” is called and I do one last stretch before I climb into my costume. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that Falstaff is an athletic event.

This show, in my humble opinion, is the apex of comic opera. It’s full of Verdi’s most vivid orchestral colors and the vocal lines oscillate between patter and full on bel canto. I can still remember first listening to the act 2 finale in my apartment and laughing out loud, without even knowing the translation. Having been a part of this production for a month or so now, the piece only gets more entertaining the more I hear it.

From left: Dame Quickly (Meredith Arwady), Meg Page (Renée Rapier), Alice Ford (Ainhoa Arteta) and Nannetta (Heidi Stober) conspire to trick the amorous Falstaff (Bryn Terfel). [All photos by Cory Weaver.]
But bringing this piece to life takes such preparation and focus from absolutely everyone involved.  The actors on stage need to know everyone else’s lines not only to react properly, but to keep the brisk pace that makes comedies so delightful.  I’ve even caught myself mouthing my colleagues lines, or worse, accidentally singing them!  On top of all the musical complexities, we must also perform various tasks around stage to keep everything rolling.  In just one scene, for example, I must make sure to catch a scarf, make a bed, close several doors, pick up a mountain of laundry and shove Bryn Terfel in a basket.  Some things are staging issues and some things are real issues of safety, but all of them need to be done.  While running.  And singing. In a corset.

Meg Page (Rapier) shoves Falstaff (Terfel) into a laundry basket, with an assist from Dame Quickly (Arwady).

Speaking of which, the athleticism required for all this stage business became very apparent as we entered tech week.  For me, a big concern was managing my blood sugar throughout the performance.  I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 14 and am still learning how to navigate the many aspects of opera in that respect.  After our first dress rehearsal, I could definitely begin to quantify how much energy I would be needing.  To avoid any trouble, I test my blood sugar at every possible break and make sure I’ve got a trusty juice box near by.  Just one more aspect of the show requiring precision.

Alice Ford (Arteta) and Meg Page (Rapier) show each other the letters they have received from Falstaff as Nannetta (Stober) looks on.

But mostly, when I’m waiting for my entrance cue while clutching my letter from Sir John Falstaff, I have a moment of reflection.  This production marks the end of my time on stage as an Adler and as many had told me, the two years of my fellowship have flown by.  I arrived here a young artist in every way, but through time and the training I’ve received in San Francisco, I feel ready to jump into the real world.  And what a way to do so: on stage with some of the most kind, wise, hilarious, talented, hard-working professionals I have ever met.  Who have made me believe in myself and in the glorious art form we strive to honor with every performance.  What a wonderful gift indeed.

Posted: 10/11/2013 2:37:03 PM by Renée Rapier, mezzo-soprano
Filed under: 2013-14Season, Adler, Falstaff, singer, Verdi


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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