Metropolitan Opera-director Sarah Meyers reflects on the process of putting the puzzle that is Gallo together.
I inflated a beach ball.
I tried on a chicken suit.
I mused on the ultimate fate of man.
And that was all before the start of rehearsal.
We are three days into the rehearsal process for Guerilla Opera’s latest show, Gallo by Ken Ueno. Ken has one of the most expansive minds of anyone I’ve ever met, and his music reflects his curiosity. We go from dancing a sarabande to a burlesque number to an aria in chickeneese. And Ken’s interests extend beyond just music, encompassing everything from Shakespeare and James Joyce to Nikki Benz and the club scene in Beijing. And it his particular genius to see the connections between all these interests, to find the ways in which one helps elucidate the mysteries of the other. Working on this opera has been an extended journey into Ken’s mind, and it is both intimidating, and inspiring. When I am not directing, I love to work on puzzles, and in particular I am a fan of the rubik’s cube (and its various iterations). This opera feels a bit like a rubik’s cube – you can look at any side as an individual, yes, but they are all connected. And when you start to shift the pieces of one, it will necessarily break down another. While each aria and number of this opera is a complete entity and can be experienced independently, it is only when you approach them together that their full meaning and ramifications can resonate.
The puzzle is challenging. But I realized today in rehearsal that I have a team of wonderful individuals helping to put it together. And that this opera, in many ways, takes a village to fulfill its full potential. At the moment, I am feeling so thankful for the incredible creative and collaborative energy that is bubbling and fizzing away in our rehearsal room, and I would love to take this opportunity to thank a few of the incredible people involved for the amazing things they do.
I am grateful for:
Our composer! Ken himself is an amazing collaborative partner in this endeavor, and it is invaluable having him in the room with us. Working in opera you so rarely have the opportunity to ask a composer what he intended with a given section, or how he feels a certain musical idea should be expressed. And with this piece in particular, it helps immensely to be able to think it through with the person who originally thought it up!
This cast! We have two of the most amazing musicians in the business, Aliana de la Guardia, our soprano and Douglas Dodson, our countertenor. In case you had not already guessed, let me tell you – the music in this opera is HARD. And Aliana and Doug have to put their brains into overdrive to perform it. Both of them have to sing in several different vocal styles, (not to mention in the invented language of Chickeneese). On top of that, they have to dance, strut, strip, and at one point, actually sing upside down. They are dauntless, game for anything we can throw at them, and all around good eggs. I feel truly lucky to have this dynamic duo on our beach.
Our fabulous production team….
Scenic Designer – Julia Noulin-Mérat. Also the director of design and production, Julia is a fixture with Guerilla Opera. She is a creative visionary and a multitasking juggler – an acrobat, even, keeping dozens of balls in the air at the same time, while also managing to tweet, post and instagram about all of them. She is an endless source of solutions – especially for those on a tight budget, as we are now! She also has the ability to galvanize positive energy if things ever start to appear grim, and to bring that energy to everyone around her.
Costume Designer – Annie Simon. This is both my first time working with Annie and her first time working with Guerilla. And she is proving to be an utterly indispensable part of the team. She has a way of thinking unlike anyone else I’ve ever met. I would like to be able to see one of Annie’s dreams, because I imagine it would take the world I know and turn it inside out. Just as important as being able to imagine amazing things is the ability to transfer those ideas into reality, and Annie does. She has found ways of evoking the ideas of this piece directly in the very fabric of our costumes. Very glad she is with us!
Lighting and Multi-media Designer – Tláloc López-Watermann. I have done two other shows with Tláloc, and I can say without a doubt that he is a magician. He can turn a floor lamp into a back room pendant, and fake candles into oil lanterns. If I can’t figure out how to get it done, I ask Tláloc. Not only is he a brilliant lighting designer, but he is also a master with projections and imagery. One of my favorite things about Tláloc is actually his ability to intermingle the two, so that you aren’t sure what is projection, what is light. He blurs the division between “live” and “recorded,” making those two things interact, which is perfect for this show in which taped sound and live musicians are partners.
Assistant Director and Choreographer – Thea Wigglesworth. A woman of many talents, she is our fabulous movement guru, capable of choreographing both sarabande and burlesque! Thea is not just a fabulous choreographer, she is also fast! She can hear a number for the first time one morning and have it fully choreographed for that night (and then perform it too!). Like so many people on this team, she wears many hats, performing the function of both choreographer and AD with aplomb.
Our stage-manager – Abby Beggs. Our support system and informational hub! Abby makes sure everything is set and ready to go at the start of each rehearsal, and has the arduous task of clearing it away each night – and with this set, that is a job requiring both brain and braun! Abby keeps us on schedule and looking ahead to the future.
There are so many others who I feel so fortunate to be working with – our props woman, Anita, who finds us items both mundane and extraordinary; the fabulous instrumentalists who have not yet joined our staging rehearsals (though they will shortly); our technical director, the indomitable Mark DiGiovanni, who can’t stand the words “it can’t be done!”; our production manager, Dana Ciccotello, a powerful force behind the scenes; and of course, the incredible Guerilla artistic team. With so many brilliant people in one place, I can’t wait to see what we can cook up for this production. Who’s hungry?