You may already know that San Antonio is home to a world-class opera company, OPERA San Antonio, now in its fourth season as a resident company of the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. But do you know what it takes to produce a grand opera like Verdi’s Macbeth on the stage of the H-E-B Performance Hall? A village of singers, musicians, designers, and skilled workers, plus truckloads of sets, and costumes, assemble in San Antonio to make it happen.
The audience can easily see who is on stage, especially the principal singers and the 32 members of the chorus. But when you include everyone behind and below the stage, there are roughly 150 to 200 people involved in what is happening every night. In the orchestra pit, there are 56 orchestra members (including a concert master), plus a conductor and an assistant conductor. There are stage managers and theatre house managers, ushers, the box office, and more, all working together to create a positive, immersive experience for the opera patron.
The process begins weeks, even months, and sometimes years before the curtain rises. Here are some examples of preparations for OPERA San Antonio’s production of Verdi’s Macbeth:
- OPERA San Antonio Chorus: Everyone familiar with the Shakespeare play Macbeth knows about the witches: “Double, double toil and trouble.” Instead of three witches, Verdi used a chorus, and made it an essential player in the opera, not only in the witch scene. The chorus is a prominent part of the score throughout. For staging Verdi’s Macbeth at the Tobin Center, OPERA San Antonio has assembled a chorus of 32 members to suit the physical and acoustic size of the H-E-B Performance Hall. When the principals and the chorus are singing together, that’s as many as 40 people on stage. Now that OPERA San Antonio is in its fourth season and its reputation has grown, Macbeth has attracted a top-notch chorus of singers from San Antonio, San Marcos, Austin, and surrounding areas. These formally trained, talented musicians go through a long selection process culminating in auditions. Chorus Master Dottie Randall has been leading rehearsals for this production of Macbeth, which required an estimated 100 hours of physical rehearsal time. In addition to rehearsal time, chorus members prepared through individual study. Most chorus members have full time jobs outside of their rehearsal schedule and balance it between work and their commitment to the production.
- Orchestra: Verdi’s music will be performed live by more than 50 classical musicians under the direction of Sebastian Lang-Lessing, music director of the San Antonio Symphony. Concertmaster Eric Gratz is the principal player of the orchestra and supports the maestro’s leadership. The musicians in the orchestra get their music weeks in advance and thus have an opportunity to prepare on their own before the first rehearsal takes place.
- Setting the stage: On Aug. 30, the crew installed a deck on top of the stage floor. The deck is made out of steel frames between two layers of plywood. It breaks down into 168 pieces, with a combined weight of 25,000 lbs. The deck protects the stage floor, and set pieces can be screwed on to it. It will be stored and re-used for future OPERA San Antonio productions. Once the deck is assembled, the crew of about 50 will take up to 32 hours loading and installing the set for Macbeth. The sets and costumes are rented from the Glimmerglass Festival. They arrived well in advance in three 18-wheeler trucks to be stored in the Tobin Theatre Arts Fund warehouse until being transported to the Tobin Center, where all costume fittings took place. Two scenic supervisors from Glimmerglass traveled to San Antonio to oversee the load in and construction of the set. Meanwhile, the lighting crew is installing equipment in the rafters, along with colorful gels that will cast different shades on the stage. Once completed, they will test the lighting and cue the shades to match the scenery with the help of “lightwalkers,” all the while timing the music perfectly. With stage, sets, and lights assembled in the Tobin Center, the company was able to rehearse in the Tobin Center starting on Sept. 2. (Preliminary rehearsals were held at the Scottish Rite and in the Radius Center.)
- Costumes and props: Costumes arrived at the Tobin Center this week. Before that, the costumes were at the Tobin Theatre Arts Fund warehouse after being delivered from Glimmerglass. The Wardrobe Master, Raul McGinnes of SRO Associates, assisted by a tailor and two assistants, will have spent almost two full work-weeks at the warehouse gathering measurements from the entire cast, including the 32 chorus members, making whatever alterations are needed to every single person’s costume. In addition, the wig and makeup designer (and two assistants) will have begun to style wigs matching each cast member to the measurement of their head size and stocking up on make-up, ensuring every single person has the right palette on demand.
- Every role counts: “Every role back stage is just as important as those on stage,” said General and Artistic Director Enrique Carreón-Robledo, who is supervising this production of Macbeth. He knows this firsthand, as he has personally taken on the task of performing every role for everyone involved in an operatic production and/or opera company at least once in his career. Each role has to have a certain mix of the right planning skills, instincts, and something that you can’t take for granted – experience, which develops over years and years. With this growing company, the staff – though smaller than that of most opera companies its size – harbors a strong skill set of predicting and problem solving.
- In this production of Macbeth, Board Chair Mel Weingart will surprise the audience by playing the role of Duncan on stage. Weingart takes his cameo appearance with the same seriousness and commitment with which he takes his role of board chair. Weingart has worked behind the scenes by bringing in dedicated leaders such as Carreón-Robledo to keep the company on its path to success. He has loaned his office space to host auditions and made the Tobin Theatre Arts Fund warehouse available to house hundreds of costumes and props for weeks leading up to the production before they are delivered to the Tobin Center. He is no stranger to rolling up his sleeves for the success of OPERA San Antonio.
OPERA San Antonio is assembling a village of uniquely talented people to bring to life its production of Verdi’s Macbeth. From local chorus members and musicians to backstage tech crew and its office staff, it takes a large team of skilled and experienced people working together to create this opportunity for San Antonio audiences. Verdi composed Macbeth 170 years ago, but the experience becomes fresh and authentic again when presented live on stage. The San Antonio community is learning about this world-class opera company in our midst and surrendering to the transcendent experience of attending an opera.