Yesterday morning I took the backstage tour at SFO for the first time. I was with a nice couple, Keith and Laura, from Shawnee, OK, who are staying at the Glorieta Baptist Assembly. He teaches at Oklahoma Baptist University. They're Baptists.
There were Rules. No photography. Don't even think about eating. If you need to pee, go now, because we are not stopping. Do not speak at all in the costume shop, because the stitchers needed to concentrate. And no drinking anything anywhere, even though it's 98º and the relative humidity is 4%.
The tour was interesting but not very detailed. The docent would point out stuff—"This, of course, is the fledamora plankstaff, complete with state-of-the-art street elbows and bell-top flow flanges"—but wouldn't elaborate on what exactly it was, what it did, and why no self-respecting opera house should be without one. She made much of the fact that there's no curtain, and all the set changes are made in full view of the audience. Keith and Laura were not impressed.
She also pointed out that there's no back wall to the stage, but didn't give examples of why not having a wall would occasionally be a good thing; so I told Keith and Laura about using the lights of Los Alamos as the lights of the harbor at Nagasaki, the Flying Dutchman's ship rising out of the sea during a lightning storm in the Jemez, and the Queen of the Night's entrance in the 1968 production of The Magic Flute.
We went to the Stieren Orchestral Hall; the docent said it was used for rehearsals. I added that the preview lectures are also held there. Keith and Laura seemed to appreciate my annotations, but the docent may have thought I was a know-it-all.
I asked whether it was true that the opera had the prop head of every singer who had sung Jochanaan in Salome, and the docent said they did, but we couldn't see them. Ratz. That was the main reason I went.
|Aubrey Beardley's illustration for Oscar Wilde's play|
We had only a couple interactions with the workers. We talked briefly with a wigmaker, and I learned enough that I never want to take up that job. The opera uses real human hair, and all the wigs for the principals are handmade. The process requires meticulousness and patience. We also got to talk with a journeyman who was painting a piece for The Marriage of Figaro.
We saw one of the costumes from Lucio Silla, and the docent said that they always use "muslim" when making the first pattern for the costume. That's one way to bring peace to the Middle East, I guess.
|Architectural costume designed by Paul Brown. Photo by Beatuy by Noel.|
It was fun, and I got my $10 worth. Maybe next season I can volunteer as a docent. I bet I'd be boffo.