Today was my second day of cover staging rehearsal, in which the alternate cast gets a chance to move through the blocking we’ve been watching our counterparts do for a couple of weeks (or days, as the case may be). It’s a very casual rehearsal, and lots of fun, most likely because we don’t really feel any of the pressure that comes with being “the star.” Or even with being the shepherd boy!
(This isn’t to say that the principals don’t have fun in their rehearsals! They certainly do, but the atmosphere is noticeably different in cover staging. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that they’re rehearsing on the Met stage these days, and we’re in a small studio on the fifth floor…)
Today we worked on Act III, which is when my character rushes in, breaking up a somber wedding, to announce that the ice-cutters have found a dead baby in the river. (Yikes! That’s opera for you! For a full synopsis of Jenufa, go here.) Jano being a young boy (we’re aiming for ten or so, although I’d be a very tall 10-year-old!), he is scared and excited, and so all of his words come out in a big rush. It’s quite a tounge-twisting phrase, not to mention a rhythmically difficult moment. I’ve been running this moment over and over in my head for months now, making sure I have every syllable down pat so that I can commit myself to the drama of the moment.
It is often the case that when you run a scene for the first time, you learn something important about how to “play”it - where to look, when to move or when to stay still, how to focus your energy, etc. Today, I learned where to point my mouth when saying the word pupinu.
Pronounced just the way it looks, it is the Czech word for “bonnet.” Jano is describing the red bonnet that the baby was wearing, which tips Jenufa off to the fact that it is, likely, her child, as she knit a red bonnet for him.
Put your hand in front of your mouth and say pupinu. You should feel two puffs of air hit your hand. Now, imagine that you are singing this word instead of saying it, which requires exponentially more air than speaking. Add to that the excitement and fear of a ten-year-old boy, and, well, you get a LOT of air coming out on those p’s! So much air, in fact, that when I sing the word right to Jenufa, her eyes will bug out and her hair will be blown back from her face as if she had walked in front of a fan on high speed!
Fortunately, there was no spit to accompany the air (a hazard which I’m sure will appear in a future post somewhere along the line…), but it was still enough to make both KH, the Jenufa cover, and me burst into giggles, all the while trying to “stay in the scene.” The look on her face is one I will not soon forget!
I only got to run the scene one more time, but before I did, I spent a few moments planning out when I would be singing to Jenufa and when I would be facing out. In those facing-out moments, I’m both ACB connecting with the conductor and Jano seeing the baby in my mind’s eye.
And let me assure you that during one of those facing-out moments, I was seeing that red bonnet, the červenou pupinu, and not even remotely looking at Jenufa! Let’s hope I can remember that little detail should I ever have to go on in performance. I think I would die a little if my plosive consonants messed up Ms. Mattila’s wig…