by Scott Dine
Ron Gretz is instructing members of the Annapolis Opera chorus how to pronounce "Rigoletto" in Italian and in tempo with the music. On a recent Sunday, the chorus was rehearsing the opera of the same name on the third floor of the Asbury United Methodist Church on West Street.
"Rigo-let-to," says the chorus.
And Gretz again: "RIGO-LET-TO."
And the chorus: "RIGO-LET-TO." In Italian, in tempo with the music.
Ten men and seven women appear in the chorus of Rigoletto. Half of them are from Baltimore, the rest scattered around Annapolis. They will attend 13 rehearsals that range from two hours to six hours. And appear in two performances. Chorus members will be paid - but not generously - for their effort.
The president of the Annapolis Opera, Anna Marie Darlington-Gilmour is unpaid and, it appears, works full time. For her, Rigoletto recalls a childhood with her father, born near Naples, singing Italian opera as she sat on his lap. Saturdays she and her father would listen to opera on the radio, searching for Italian opera. And some Mozart, who wrote in Italian. Her father died when she was 16.
"If the opera was in Italian, I knew it," she said. But Darlington-Gilmour didn't see an opera until she was 35. A friend in her hometown of Philadelphia was teaching opera appreciation classes, and Darlington-Gilmour was invited to a dinner for the winners of Pavarotti International Voice Competition. She realized she still knew all the words to Italian opera. The passion developed by her father was rekindled.
Darlington-Gilmour moved to Annapolis four years ago and has been president of Annapolis Opera for three years. A good part of her job is fund-raising, as tickets pay only 50 percent of the cost of production.
Some of the fund-raising pays for the rental of an electronic device known as Surtitles.
An electronic system, Surtitles places a digital translation of Italian into English above the performance. Most opera companies, including the Metropolitan Opera, use the device.
Career development for an opera performer is a long road. Most performers have a master's degree in voice. Hitting the road in their mid-20s, they spend another 10 years singing, trying out, honing technique and traveling to perform. Hitting it big means international travel to Europe and South America and the principal cities of the U.S.
Other funding comes from individuals and from foundations. For Rigoletto, Annapolis' Helena Foundation sponsored the role of Rigoletto. Retired Northrop Grumman engineer Bill Boldyga sponsored the role of Maddalena, to be performed by Lori Hultgren. Support for Surtitles came from California's Anne and Gordon Getty Foundation.
Annapolis is an ideal location to attract talent. Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York all have opera companies. Students and graduates of Peabody Institute in Baltimore and the Academy of Voice of the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia have been part of the Annapolis Opera. A vocal competition held by the company each spring is, according to Darlington-Gilmour, where Gretz gets 'em. Daeson No, who sings the role of Rigoletto, was discovered at a recent competition.
Gretz and Braxton Peters, Annapolis Opera stage director, alternate during rehearsals, Ron directing music and Braxton the staging of Rigoletto.
"I make out the schedules," said Peters, "and he complains about them," pointing to Gretz. It is a good-natured accusation. Both men have day jobs teaching at the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University.
But back to the night job:
"I know it's not spelled that way," says Gretz. And adds, "That's one of those printing things." The word is "contessa."
"Con-te-ssa," Repeats the chorus.
"CON-TE-SSA," says Gretz.
"CON-TE-SSA," says the Chorus, taking the "printing thing" and turning it into wonderful music.
See Rigoletto as presented by Annapolis Opera at Maryland Hall For the Creative Arts, Fri. Nov. 3 at 8pm and Sun., Nov. 5 at 3pm. $45: 410/267-8135 · firstname.lastname@example.org.