By Elise Sandell (Assisant Director, Götterdämmerung)

Friday, May 13, 2011

There are few feelings more horrifying to someone who works in the opera business than the feeling of a cough or cold coming on. If you’re a singer, it’s bad news because it can surely prevent you from singing well, singing safely, or even singing at all. However, it’s horrifying even if you’re not a singer. At the first cough, you feel like the elephant in the room. Whether you’re contagious or not, you’re a threat, both to health and morale. No one who makes their living with their vocal cords wants to listen to you coughing, believe me.

As Assistant Director on Götterdämmerung, it’s my job to be at all the rehearsals.   In a nutshell, I help everyone rehearse and perform efficiently. I take notes, help plan the schedule, suggest where to start again if we’ve stopped. 

I write down all the blocking, a record of everything that happens onstage. (This can be important on a piece as expansive as the Ring…on Monday we rehearsed the Norns for the 1st time in 2 weeks!) Those are just a few of my duties. There are also intangibles; as one of the few (or maybe only) positions in the company that is concentrating on just one opera, I feel a sense of ownership and duty to this production. It’s up to me to know everything that goes on so I can help all the others who split their attention with other productions—from Brünnhilde to the stage managers to the amazing crew that coordinates props and scenery for as many as nine rehearsals in one day. [Right: Melissa Citro (Gutrune) and Andrea Silvestrelli (Hagen) work through an early staging rehearsal of Götterdämmerung. Photo by Kristen Loken.]
Sadly, I’ve done none of the above in the last two days. I’m writing from my sickbed, recovering from an upper respiratory infection. It’s the first time I’ve missed rehearsals for illness in my 17 year opera career, and I’m going a little stir crazy. Most of the time, production staff members just work through illness, either because there’s no one to replace us, or out of a “show must go on” mentality. (It’s difficult to explain just how thickly this determination runs in the blood of almost every one of my colleagues in this business; it may sound like a cliché, but it’s real.) Well, I’ve stayed away this time because I was asked to, because I know it’s for the good of everyone involved, and because this amazing team will get along just fine without me for a few days. However, there are many things I’m dying to know! What’s “Version A” of the hunting scene like? How does Siegfried meet his end? How far were the Rhinemaidens willing to go to get that ring back? How does Gutrune end up? What insights did I miss when the cast put Act III, Sc. 2 into their own words? [Above: Nina Stemme (Brunnhilde) and Andrea Silvestrelli (Hagen) rehearse. In the background Elise Sandell takes notes with Director Francesca Zambello and Rehearsal Conductor Sara Jobin. Photo by Kristen Loken]
I’ll just have to wait until my cough goes away to find out, but I can’t wait to get back to the banks of the Rhine!