I was asked to be part of a solo quartet of women fairies for the Ballet San Jose production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. There is the solo quartet and then a mezzo and a soprano soloist, so there are six of us women with voices soaring.
What a sublime feeling to be the “bass” in all of this. I’m singing the bottom line, letting my rich alto voice ring out to support the upper voices.
Last night was dress rehearsal. We’re in the pit. I’ve not ever sing from the pit before. And I’ve never sung for a ballet before. Unless you’re one of the musicians whose seat is up against the far wall of the pit, or you are the conductor, you do not get to see the dancers. You can only hear them.
Dancers, when seen from the audience, look graceful and light as if they’re flying about the stage. From beneath the stage, they’re like hordes of hoofed beasts clomping and throwing things about.
The singer’s seats are directly beneath the stage. I kept jumping in my seat each time a dancer would jump. (I’m one of those folks who jumps and yells at scary movies when things pop out of nowhere, so this was particularly embarrassing as I kept startling and the rest of the fairies were just quietly laughing at me.) At least I’m assuming that’s what the dancers are doing, since they can’t be doing what I think they’re doing. From underneath it sounds like they’re throwing large tree trunks and nobody’s catch them.
I’m thinking it’s the toe shoes that make the clattering sound. Bottom’s Ass’s head doesn’t hit the ground at any point as far as I remember from the play.
Being in the pit has some lovely advantages though. Have you ever wanted to be right down with the orchestra, in the middle of that sound? Watching, up close as the melody gets tossed from oboe to flute to violin to cello? It’s beautiful to watch.
It’s also interesting to watch those folks who can see the dancers. They turn and look or sometimes even stand up to see, mouthing the count of the measures so that they come back in at the proper time, but with eyes wide open, watching eagerly.
Last night listening to the music was sublime, but also nerve wracking as we, the fairies, determined that we didn’t have the same score as the orchestra, so had no idea when we were supposed to sing. The ballet is about two hours long, and we sing two short pieces. One before the intermission and one at the end of the play.
And Mendlessohn, like any good composer, uses the same melodic themes over and over again with slight variations, so I (in particular), kept looking about in worry as I would hear something that sounded close to what our beginning measures sounded like. Twice we headed up to stand at our stands long before we were actually needed. We would get up there and when it was clearly not time for us, we would stand awhile, trying to look as if we actually knew what we were doing and then we would drift back to our seats.
I didn’t exactly drift though. My stand is beyond a plexiglas corner that I have to squeeze by. The first time I did it, the buttons on the back of my super-cute Calvin Klein jeans caught the corner of a music stand at a particularly quiet spot and banged back to the floor as the button released it. Several people chuckled quietly.
I’m grateful for dress rehearsals; not that I would be wearing pants with buttons on the back, but now I know not to wear them to rehearsals either. Please, help me remember that the next time I head off to rehearsal for the ballet. Because it’s not just about getting the music solid; it’s about getting the specifics handled. Silly things like that. Figuring out how and where to stand, etc.