What Happens When Our Intern Joins the Dallas Opera’s Production of Don Giovanni?

I wasn’t going to be a star or steal the show. Really, I wasn’t even going to speak. I was just going to be the best super I could be. That was my role in the Dallas Opera’s production of Don Giovanni. I “tried out” (got my photo and measurements taken and filled out an application with my time availability) to be a supernumerary in mid-September. I got the gig, and suddenly I was backstage and preparing for my debut at a top American opera house.

It wasn’t until the day of my costume fitting that I found out what I would be playing. I sat in the fitting room of the KRPC Dallas Opera Rehearsal Center and waited for someone to come assist me. In my head I day-dreamed about the lavish costume that would be placed on me by a woman with safety pins between her lips, giving me the once over and saying, “We’ll have to take this in here. This is too long. Maybe if we pull back the fabric here… Ah yes, it’ll be perfect!” (I’ve never been involved with a real theater production, and I watch too many musicals). The rude awakening came in the form of a white nightgown. “So, you’re playing a dead girl, one of Don Giovanni’s love victims,” the woman told me. “Don’t worry, there will be quite a few of you on that stage in these things.” Ah, comforting. The silk nightie was made less see-through with a nude-colored leotard body suit and a chiffon head veil that draped over my upper body. When she asked to take a picture of me in the costume I didn’t really know what to do: do I look like a dead girl? I mean, I didn’t want to seem like I was completely unprepared for my opera debut.

The victim costume. Photo by Valeria Turturro

The first day of rehearsal was filled with observations. For one thing, I could tell many of the supers weren’t new to this. Many of them were catching up or talking with the chorus members that were also rehearsing with us. After receiving nametags we congregated in a room where the director for Don Giovanni, John Pascoe, came in and spoke with us. I could tell right away that there would be few dull moments with him around. He immediately warned us in his lovely British accent that he might throw around the word “shag” one too many times, but with a character like Don Giovanni, there were few other ways to describe his lifestyle. He explained each of our roles a little bit, and the victims of love were told delicately that we were just a few of the ladies that fell for Giovanni’s charm and killed ourselves from heartbreak. Rough break.

We then joined the chorus in the rehearsal room – what felt like a small school gym that had been transformed with colored tape on the ground outlining different parts of the future stage. The maestro sat at the front, accompanied by a piano player and fellow musicians. The director and stage manager directed the rest. We waited while the chorus wrapped up their scene, and it struck me how surreal being a part of an opera rehearsal was. I wasn’t used to being around people that might break into an aria at the drop of a hat. It was kind of magical.

Day one was pretty uneventful for this love victim. I learned two important rules for being on stage: never stand in a straight line and always have your pelvis turned toward the person you’re supposed to be singing with. This sparked many pelvis checks throughout the rehearsal. I sat on the side and watched as the first scene of the opera was staged with the chorus and some of my fellow supers, namely priests, nuns and policemen. They let the rest of us go home early during break time.

Day two wasn’t much more eventful for me personally –again I didn’t get staged – but a few of the principal actors were there and it was incredible to watch them be staged in the scene and rehearse. Things got a little redundant with the constant stop and go of music and redirecting, but how else do you expect to pull an opera together?  I got to chat with one of the other supers and learned that it was her third show and that her son, another super, had kind of grown up being a super. She said she knew a lot of other kids that participated in the opera and came out saying, “I love opera!” What a cool way to gain appreciation for art, I thought.

Unfortunately, my time conflicts caught up with me and when the production staff learned how many rehearsals I would have to miss, I was given the boot. There went my opera career – just as quickly as it started. But I got a glimpse of the work that goes into pulling an opera together, and it gave me a sense of appreciation for and a greater connection and feeling of involvement with the entire production. Sadly, I didn’t get to stick around long enough to even see how I was to be staged as a victim of love. I’ll have to go see Don Giovanni and find out the old-fashioned away.