Notes from the Opera Pit
At the beginning of November, I played timpani in Oberlin's production of The Marriage of Figaro. It was fantastic, and the crowd loved it! I must say it does have a slightly confusing plot, but the music is great. Plus, this is probably one of the most famous and well-known operas ever written. I played in one opera every semester I've been here at Oberlin. My first one was Les Mamelles de Tiresias (The Breasts of Tiresias). Last spring, I played percussion in Cendrillon (Cinderella). This time is the first time I played timpani in the opera. Personally, my favorite so far was Cendrillon, but I'm probably biased because Cinderella was my favorite Disney princess as a kid. Since Hall Auditorium is undergoing renovations, the orchestra had to take the long way around. In the process, I was able to step on the stage for the first time, and I could see some parts of the scenery.
The timpani were placed in an awesome spot in the pit. They had them where the pit opened to the stage, so I could see the opera and the subtitles when I wasn't playing. I didn't play too much during the opera. It is Mozart, after all. Percussion was somewhat of a baby instrument family back then, and only the basic percussion instruments were used by composers. Out of the three hour runtime of the opera, I played in about an hour of it altogether. Lots of time to relax and do homework! My part mostly was used to add color to the orchestra.
There are many, many long rehearsals when you are in the opera. Dress rehearsals upon dress rehearsals. What I like most about the opera is that because we have so many rehearsals, we end up knowing the music super well. So, by the time the performances come around, we can just enjoy the music. As for someone who experiences performance anxiety, I like playing in the pit orchestra because no one can see you. I think that takes off a lot of the pressure. You also get to learn about what each opera is about, and usually by the end of the whole thing, I have my favorite parts of each opera. Also, I end up humming a lot of the arias and learning a couple words in different languages from the subtitles. Though the rehearsals can be long and tiring (especially for the string players), I believe that playing in the opera pit is a very important and rewarding experience.