Before rehearsals started for The Tales of Hoffmann, we sent out a call for young, enthusiastic supernumeraries (non-singing "supers," or extras) to be part of the action on stage. One of the people eventually chosen to join the Hoffmann team was Nicole Stawikowski, and I took the opportunity to ask her a few questions about her experience.
CC: Describe your role in this production.
NS: I am a part of a small group of supers consisting of both men and women. We don’t sing, but we do everything else from moving sets on stage to interacting with the chorus and principals throughout the opera. The supers’ part in this opera is more involved than usual, or so I am told by veteran supers. We are in every act with the exception of one, so we got to do A LOT! My roles throughout the opera include a 19th-century floozy, an overly enthusiastic student, and a sleep-deprived and slightly drugged lady of the night. And I do it all in a heavy lace dress with a long train that many people stomp on, including me. During rehearsals, the female supers wear rehearsal skirts so that we can get accustomed to an awkward bunch of material around our ankles while maneuvering large set pieces and attempting to walk elegantly while carrying heavy chairs. Phew! I have personally ripped my skirt as well as the skirts of two other supers. My sincerest apologies to whomever has to fix those sizeable rips.
CC: How did you become interested in opera? What made you want to be a super in this production?
NS: Two and a half years ago, a high school drama teacher told me in my final year that if an audition ever depended on my singing voice, I would never get the job. That is when I decided that I wanted to be an opera singer. It required impeccable technique, which I was absolutely determined to master, and sounded so damn beautiful! I haven’t looked back since and I am beyond thankful for it. Now I get to be a super in The Tales of Hoffmann and get acquainted with the people behind the exquisite voices. And they are all made of awesome! I found the COC’s call for supers via Twitter. As soon as I saw the tweet, I e-mailed my information to the address and received a reply just over an hour later. So here I am. I’m in my element! Perhaps one day I may be lucky enough to sing on this stage. Cross your fingers for me, will ya?
CC: Which scenes were the most fun to rehearse?
NS: My favourite act in The Tales of Hoffmann is definitely Act I! The set is eerily reminiscent of Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory, complete with artificial armadillos and preserved specimens. But my favorite part of all is listening to Olympia’s aria “Les oiseaux dans la charmille” [you can hear it in our online listening guide]. Olympia is usually a mechanical doll, but here she is comprised of different discarded body parts in true Dr. Frankenstein fashion. In order to get Olympia to move, a machine that sends out electrical currents shocks her. On stage, the machine that we have uses pyrotechnics to create that electric shock effect.
CC: What are your impressions of this opera and production? What do you find exciting about it?
NS: This production of The Tales of Hoffmann, which is
directed by Lee Blakeley, appeals to me. It goes without saying that the
music is absolutely stunning, but this particular interpretation really
takes everything to the next level. Picture Tim Burton meets Mary
Shelley. Kind of amazing, no? I believe that this production in
particular will appeal to the Toronto opera crowd, especially the
younger age groups. Lee has done an impeccable job with this opera. The
settings, the costumes, and the music combined will surely make for an
entertaining and even somewhat haunting night at the opera. What is also
exciting is the amount of raw talent in the show. The opportunity to
work with these talented people in a professional setting is truly an
honour and one that I am so thankful for. I really enjoy chatting with
the singers and I love that they let me! There is absolutely not one
iota of clichéd "diva" behaviour. There are only modest and unpretentious
singers. And then there's me, who is trying to learn a thing or two
about the business while having a marvellous time!
Top Photo: A scene from the Canadian Opera Company production of The Tales of Hoffmann, 2012. Photo © Michael Cooper
Middle Photo: (l – r) Michael Barrett as Spalanzani, Andriana Chuchman as Olympia (in glass case) and Steven Cole as Cochenille in the Canadian Opera Company production of The Tales of Hoffmann, 2012. Photo © Michael Cooper
Bottom Photo: Nicole Stawikowski in costume for Act III of The Tales of Hoffmann. Photo: Gene Wu
Posted by Cecily Carver / in 2011/2012 / comments (1) / permalink
Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001