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Free tickets will help you learn to love opera

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I have finally figured out why some of you have not yet become huge opera fans like me.

The problem is -- and it is hard to believe this could happen in a democracy like ours -- no one has offered to give you free tickets.

Well, that is about to change because today I am going to give you a chance to win a pair of tickets to watch my deeply moving portrayal of "the Sleeping Cowboy" in Manitoba Opera's spaghetti western version of Donizetti's Don Pasquale, which opens Saturday night at the Centennial Concert Hall.

I'll explain what you have to do in a minute, but first I want to give you a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the thrilling action during the first dress rehearsal Wednesday night. It is difficult, using mere words, to describe the excitement of being backstage at a major operatic production, but I will try: It is very exciting!

When I arrived, the first exciting thing I saw was director Rob Herriot frantically working on what looked like a delicate piece of Japanese origami.

"What are you doing?" I asked, because as a crusading columnist I get paid to ask the tough questions.

"I'm making a sombrero for Papas Fritas," Rob explained.

What you need to know here is "Papas Fritas" -- Spanish for "fried potatoes" -- is the nickname given to a creepy little stuffed squirrel wearing a tiny gunbelt perched atop a wooden desk in the middle of the stage during the opera's hotel scenes.

The gun-toting rodent earned his delicious nickname because he arrived at the opera packed inside a McDonald's box labelled "french fries."

I watched as the director carefully crafted the tiny paper hat. "You're making a sombrero for a squirrel?" I finally asked.

"Well, yes," Rob replied, casually. "If you can't accessorize your squirrel, what can you accessorize?"

I am sharing this story to give you non-opera stars a sense of the pressures we in the opera community face on a daily basis.

Next, I slouched into my operatic costume, which consists of itchy peasant-style pants and shirt, a Mexican serape and a sombrero the size of a manhole cover. I would still be getting dressed right now if it weren't for the heroics of dresser Noel de Leon, who professionally adjusted my opera suspenders, which were causing my pants to bunch up and give me the dreaded Opera Wedgie of Doom.

Then it was off to have my operatic face professionally applied by theatrical makeup artist Theresa Thomson, who ordered me to close my eyes and raise my eyebrows, then dabbed me in a soothing manner with sponges and brushes.

"It's called male chorus," Theresa explained when I asked what she was turning my face into. "I'm not allowed to deviate from that."

"Could you turn me into something really sexy?" I wondered.

"I could make you into a kitty," she replied, but we agreed that might not be suitable for an opera set in the Old West.

One of the night's most harrowing moments came when, during intermission, I foolishly attempted to visit the men's washroom wearing my super-sized sombrero and almost sustained a crippling neck injury.

Q: Are you suggesting the brim of your giant sombrero was wider than the bathroom door?

A: Yes, that is what I am suggesting.

So you can see potentially lethal hazards abound at a major opera such as Don Pasquale, so now might be a good time to describe my operatic duties in detail in case one of you has to take over the role if I am knocked out of action:

1) I spend the majority of the opera slumped over in a corner sleeping;

2) At one point in Act 1, I wake up, attempt to dance with Don Pasquale, which proves tiring, so I go back to sleep;

3) In Act 2, when someone (I am not going to say who) fires a gun, I lift my sombrero up in a dramatic fashion, then go back to sleep.

OK, now it's time to tell you how a lucky reader can win tickets to see this opera, which, along with me sleeping, contains a great deal of singing, hilarious hijinks, and a cowboy being given a bubble bath by three floozies.

All you have to do is be the first person to send me an email stating what role I play in the opera (Hint: It's "the Sleeping Cowboy"). The first correct email will win a pair of tickets to the Tuesday, Nov. 26, performance.

I promise you are going to love this entertaining opera, but please do not applaud too loudly because some of us are trying to sleep. Thank you.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 22, 2013 A2

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