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  HOME | Arts & Entertainment

The Barber of Seville: Backstage with the English National Opera

LONDON Ė Backstage, performers stand in the gloom among props, cables and lighting equipment, engrossed in a conversation about their plans for the next day as a London theater holds its breath, awaiting the start of an opera production.

Silently, the stage-manager steps forward holding a bundle of script-notes and prompts and points towards a performer who, barely interrupting the conversation, steps on stage and breaks into an operatic cascade of sound to the marvel of a full house.

So slick and professional are the team members at the English National Opera that, even during the performance of one of the seasonís key operas, The Barber of Seville, the backstage atmosphere feels like a library or station waiting room, hushed and unhurried.

Over 100 people are involved in putting on a single performance of an opera. Everyone plays their part: actors, musicians, managers, prop-makers, costume, front of house staff and even a man whose job is to hold a small pistol backstage and fire a single shot to match with the actors.

On a performance night, singers will have rehearsed for months and arrive at the theater as the set is constructed and dressed, each prop carefully checked. They warm up in a small room before dressing and having their make-up and hair done. Front of house staff will clean and prepare the theater, stocking programs and drinks at the bar.

As the doors open and audiences arrive, musicians enter the orchestra pit and begin to warm up. People take their seats and the backstage area fills with actors, technicians and crew. The maestro enters, walking to his orchestra to applause. He raises his baton and the show begins.

Backstage is always a quiet hum of activity, though there is plenty of time for a cheese sandwich and some conversation. But as soon as people see their cue, sets change, lights come on and actors magically appear in the right place to the right piece of music.

The English National Opera is one of the two principal opera companies in London, tracing its roots back to 1931, when Lilian Baylis established the Sadlerís Wells Opera Company at the newly re-opened Sadlerís Wells Theater.

Baylis had been presenting opera concerts and theater in London since 1898 and was passionate about providing audiences with the best production at affordable prices.

The ENO became the first British opera company to tour the United States, and the first major foreign opera company to travel to what was then the Soviet Union.

 

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