On Sunday -- good heavens -- we were going to stage with the leads. But we started in a blank room next to the rehearsal stage. No giant table, no props, no wings. Nothing. Just a smallish table that someone dragged to the center of the room, and a CD player with our music on it. We mimed a few times, then we were allowed to go into the rehearsal stage and finally see the soloists.
The soloists! You could hear them as soon as we went out into the hall, as soon as we left the blank room. Their voices were encircling each other in a delicious harmony and the moment I heard them my eyes grew wide. This. This is what I'd come for.
We had to pass three of the four walls to enter nearest our chairs without disturbing the performance, and the whole time we could hear the singing at different volume levels (acoustics are a funny thing). And then we got to just sit and be spellbound as the sequence-with-the-trees was run through again and again.
This was a long wait for the disengaged, but I for one was enchanted.
I have skimmed through the scene they were playing (it's the one just before ours). The scene starts as a merry lark in the woods to look for food and turns very quickly into panic, a witch/sandman comes to put them to sleep, they groggily say evening prayers that ask for fourteen angels to come and watch over them. They sleep, the key changes, and we the fourteen winged chefs drift in.
Obviously hearing it as it's meant to be heard is much different than reading the plot overview. But also seeing was much different.
Watching them shift from playful rambunctiousness to fear was incredible, and I was struck by how moving it was. Gretel panicking, Hansel trying to be brave against the rising terror. They were remarkable, and it must be incredibly difficult to communicate all that emotion through one's body (i.e., act) at the same time one is trying to sing in such a big way.
Having never seen an Opera, it was in this moment where I think I finally started to "get" the form.
And later, when we ran our scene through for the first time, in our half-costumes, with the music, and finally with the leads putting on their imaginary party clothes and looking in stunned and humbled awe at the feast we were setting out for them, it was Sandra's (Hansel) turn to be moved.
She looked up and down at us, waiting in reverent silence with our food trays, the music swelling, and her eyes grew misty.
Later when the piece finished she and Gretel and the trees and the forest creature and everyone broke into a spontaneous applause.
We have run the scene several times with them since then. And every time Sandra mentions to us or the staging choreographer how powerful it is, and she makes a point of telling us how touched she feels to see us. It's a lovely thing to be a part of, and it's amazing to me that we in our goofy heads can stir that much emotion into someone whose job it is to stir up emotion in an entire auditorium. Powerful stuff. Rubber heads and all.