Musings of an Opera Acolyte

 

Michael Rutter has a broad background in the field of Psychology and is a licensed clinician. For the last several years, his career has been focused on academics, including teaching psychology at Nashville State since 2004.

Michael is also a life-long lover of the Arts. He has been associated with Nashville Opera since 1991, performing as a supernumerary in over 40 productions. Since 1997 he has also served the Opera in a volunteer capacity as supernumerary coordinator.

 

I suppose my sense of Passion is to be obsessed in a good way. In the passion mix, I would also include having a visceral experience, a wonderful blend of the emotional and physical. A rare experience, to be sure, which perhaps makes it all the more powerful when it does occur.

When considering Passion, I know instantly what I must discuss. Opera. I am imagining a host of responses to that word among you readers. Opera gets a bad rap. However, I am not here to persuade or to defend, but to attempt to convey the meaning, excitement—the Passion—of my opera experience.

Longevity in pursuing an endeavor certainly can be one of the hallmarks of Passion. I have performed as a supernumerary, a non-vocal extra, in forty-four productions with Nashville Opera. Since 1997 I have served as a volunteer super’s coordinator responsible for casting those roles.

So why do this? This Passion has its roots in my childhood love of old Hollywood films (and I mean old—’40s, ’30s, even silent films). The spectacle, melodrama, and camp of some of these films resonated with me from an early age. Just as these qualities in film captivated me, so too did they early-on appeal to me in opera. When I was eighteen, in 1972, a two-hour tribute to the retiring manager of the Metropolitan Opera was telecast. It held me riveted every minute. From that time on, I have happily enjoyed and been a part of that opera world. I believe it was a Passion from the beginning.

What does this thing called opera do for me? What does it bring me?

Escape? Perhaps, but so much more. On the first day of rehearsal, when the company is assembled for the first time, there is a delightful expectant energy. There is the sense that something wonderful is about to unfold. We then set about the task of building, of “sculpting,” the production. Layer after layer is added until this splendid creation begins to emerge. This journey is as much a part of the experience as the finished work.

All of us in the company are working toward the same result. How often does one have the opportunity to be part of a group of individuals who are all invested in the same outcome, in realizing the same goal? That sense of shared purpose is enticing. We become like a school of tropical fish, easily swaying and instinctively moving in the same direction.

Opera also brings me a delicious sensory experience. The sounds of laughter and animated conversation from the Dressing Rooms; the distinct aromas of make-up, spirit gum that pierces the nostrils, and opening-night floral tributes that waft by us; the rustle of costumes and the hurried sound of footsteps ascending the stairs up to the wings; the backstage thuds and knocks, and the calls and cries from the stagehands.

I wait in the wings, part of this mass of color and transformation that is the cast, and then hear that exciting phrase from the Stage Manager: “Places on stage, please.” I stand on stage, hearing the collective babble of the audience on the other side of the curtain. Suddenly they silence themselves and all is still. A sudden burst of sound from the orchestra and the overture begins. The curtain opens, and I am happily carried away into a beautiful realm, a timeless dimension. There are no windows in the Theater or the Dressing Rooms, and so this welcome timelessness is heightened. I am in the midst of this sparkling jewel of sound, light, color, and warmth.

What could be better? To be a part of this lovely and powerful artistic world gives me great pause and a deep sense of gratitude. It appeals to my senses, my emotions, my thoughts. How many times does life offer such a consummate experience? I hope I may reside in this Opera domain for many years to come.

At the end of Act II of Die Fledermaus, the chorus sings:

 

Ging’s durch das Leben so flott wie heut,

war jede Stunde der Lust geweiht!

 

If through life we could gaily waltz like this,

every hour would be sheer delight!

 

And so would it be. My Opera love. My passion.

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