Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Catch Doug's operatic debut

Columnist a courtier in Verdi's Rigoletto

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Those of you who aren't stage veterans like me will be shocked to learn your standard opera contains many hazards that are potentially lethal.

That's perhaps the most important lesson I've learned over the past couple of weeks in rehearsals for Manitoba Opera's production of Verdi's Rigoletto, which opens Saturday night at the Centennial Concert Hall.

Using the technique of persistent whining, I persuaded the nice folks at the Manitoba Opera to cast me as a "supernumerary" -- for the record, we like to be called "supers" -- which is the operatic term for an extra.

The idea was I would be a non-singing traffic cone clutching a spear and hiding in the background, but it turns out director Rob Herriot had something more operatically challenging in mind.

"Opera is all about sex," is how Rob explained it to me. "It's one big artistic release."

So now, when the curtain rises, the first thing opera lovers will see is a lecherous courtier, me, being pulled in different directions by two beautiful women, one of whom I casually discard, while the second -- portrayed by fellow opera rookie Bonita Reimer -- I scoop up and fling over my shoulders.

After paddling Bonita on the posterior region in a frisky, 16th-century manner, I lumber around the stage like an escaped circus bear, eventually dumping her on a pile of pillows and pouncing on top of her to begin some serious operatic canoodling.

The thing you need to know is, back in the 16th century, courtiers with lust on their minds did not wear designer eyeglasses, which means I am expected to engage in all this operatic lumbering and canoodling without the benefit of corrective lenses.

Without my glasses, everything I look at becomes some sort of random, fuzzy blob, which is not helpful when you are staggering around a strange stage with a living, wriggling human being draped over your shoulders while, all around you, blurry professional opera persons are drinking wine, gobbling grapes and singing loudly in Italian.

What happened the other night was, I plopped Bonita on the pillows, at which point she assumed a provocative pre-canoodling pose and I threw myself on top of her in a carefree manner, blissfully unaware she had one knee in the locked, upright position.

For the benefit of male readers, I won't go into great detail, but if you remember being a kid and riding your bike off a large hill and slamming into the ground, you'll know what happened to my medically sensitive area.

"Oops!" is how Bonita politely put it.

"Ouch!" is what I grunted after being transformed from a baritone into a soprano. (I am paraphrasing. The truth is I muttered certain words we do not use in a family newspaper.)

Fortunately, on our next attempt, things went more smoothly, although while I was in mid-leap, Bonita, in a throaty stage whisper, giggled: "OK, give it to me, big boy!"

Which caused me to erupt in suppressed laughter to the point where I thought I was going to have an unfortunate accident on the stage in front of the entire cast. Fortunately, I pulled it together, so to speak.

The thing about opera is that, in the world of high culture, it is a contact sport. If you don't watch where you are going, you can easily be bowled over by a baritone or skewered by a "super" wielding a spear.

Canoodling aside, I am also expected, at specific key moments in Act 1, to (a) laugh uproariously, and (b) sing in tune. Seriously, in a moment of weakness, they agreed to let me sing.

Assistant musical director Tadeusz Biernacki felt it would be safe to let me sing one word, "vendetta," which is opera-speak for "vengeance." I have to sing this word three times, so Tadeusz made me a CD which I listen to over and over in the car.

You'd think a trained humour columnist such as myself would be capable of laughing and/or singing one word on cue, but, tragically, that is not the case.

"You'll do a wonderful job," Tadeusz assured me. "We believe in you. Also, Russ will stand next to you and jab you in the elbows when it's time to sing."

It turns out this is standard operatic procedure. As chorus member Russ Foster explained: "When we do some operas, they give us a kid to look after and with a kid it's like, 'OK, SING NOW! SING NOW!' So I'll do the same for you."

Manitoba Opera is kicking of its season with Verdi's masterwork, Rigoletto. Free Press humour columnist Doug Speirs will be playing the role of a frisky courtier, but only in Act 1, so it's safe to buy tickets.

Showtimes are 8 p.m. Nov. 24 and 30; 7 p.m. Nov. 27. Tickets start at $42 at 204-944-8824 or www.manitobaopera.mb.ca

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Your night at the opera

Manitoba Opera is kicking of its season with Verdi's masterwork, Rigoletto.

Free Press humour columnist Doug Speirs will be playing the role of a frisky courtier, but only in Act 1, so it's safe to buy tickets.

Showtimes are 8 p.m. Nov. 24 and 30; 7 p.m. Nov. 27. Tickets start at $42 at 204-944-8824 or www.manitobaopera.mb.ca

Or visit the box office on the lower level of the Centennial Concert Hall.

Tell them Doug sent you. Say it in Italian.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 21, 2012 A2

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