Off-Ramp host John Rabe and contributors share thoughts on arts, culture, and life in L.A.

Mike Sheehan's Sketchbook: LA Opera rehearsing 'Tosca'

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Artist Mike Sheehan has been sketching Los Angeles for Off-Ramp, including the Shuttle parade, the opening of Grand Park, and most recently, a weekend alongside Wendy Greuel's campaign for mayor. These are his notes from his day at rehearsals for Los Angeles Opera's rendition of 'Tosca.'

I always wondered how they put a big opera production together. I had it in my mind that it was always big, even in rehearsals. It was the opposite.

I arrived at the rehearsal room on the 4th floor of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. I got there as they were assembling. Next, I met director John Caird who gave me a prime seat next to prompter Nino, Pianist Jeremy Frank, and Conductor (for the May 26th performance) Jordi Bernàcer. The piano was the only accompaniment. Until that moment, I had no idea what a prompter was. A prompter is the person in the box at the front of the stage. They call out the first lines of a phrase to the performers and have a lot of prep work throughout the production.

I sketched performers Sondra Radvanovsky and Marco Berti as they worked through scenes. I was surprised by the looseness of the rehearsal. John Caird would occasionally stop the performers and give direction. Placido Domingo also showed up and made comments and offered encouragement. He's conducting this production.  

Sketching while listening to them sing was amazing - I could do that everyday. Absolutely beautiful music and voices. When it's pared down to just piano and voices without all of the ornamentation, you hear it in a different way.

After that, I took my sketchbook down to the main stage where they blocked out a scene on the scaffold. It was too big (about 15 feet tall) to have in the regular rehearsal space. 

Next, everyone took a break and later reconvened at 7 pm for the second half of rehearsal. Now, there were more performers and a really casual vibe permeated the room with lots of joking and playfulness. A few props were added with stacks of crates and a table and chairs.

The show opens May 18th and they were blocking with minimal props, no costumes and all in a very short time frame. It was difficult to imagine this all coming together in less than two weeks. When I asked about the time frame, Gary Murphy, the Director of Communications and Public Relations at LA Opera told me (paraphrasing), "It's different than theater. These people come in and know it as opposed to theater where the actors want to find the character and so forth. Short time frames are typical for them." 

At around 10 p.m. director John Caird wrapped it up. It's an amazing world to get a close up view of. I can't wait to see the final production.

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