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Asleep on the job

Operatic performance won't tax my abilities

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Doug doing what he does best -- catching a few zzzzzzzzs.

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Doug doing what he does best -- catching a few zzzzzzzzs.

Oops! I'm doing it again.

With apologies to Britney Spears, what I am referring to here is my burgeoning career as a major opera star.

For the second straight year, thanks to persistent whining, I have persuaded the nice folks at Manitoba Opera to put me in one of their classy productions.

This means they have agreed to cast me as a "supernumerary" -- the operatic word for extra -- in the upcoming production of Donizetti's comic opera Don Pasquale, which opens Nov. 23 at the Centennial Concert Hall.

By way of background, I will mention that last year, when I made my big debut in Verdi's Rigoletto, I assumed I'd be portraying the operatic version of a houseplant or a non-singing, 16th-century traffic cone.

It turns out I was an idiot. Just for fun, director Rob Herriot decided that when the curtain rose, the first thing opera lovers saw was a lecherous courtier, me, being pulled in different directions by two beautiful women, one of whom, portrayed by fellow rookie Bonita Reimer, I flung over my shoulder and paddled on the posterior in a frisky manner.

The highlight was the moment I plopped my partner on a pile of comfy pillows, jumped on top of her and attempted to engage in operatic canoodling, which, because we were buried under hundreds of pounds of makeup and costumes, looked like two drunk people fighting to get out of their living room drapes.

Tragically, I will not be doing much operatic canoodling in Don Pasquale, which is typically set in Rome in the early 19th century, but in this production is a classic spaghetti western set in the Wild West. It has a fairly convoluted plot due to the fact everyone is singing in Italian.

I made this discovery last weekend when I arrived at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's wardrobe department to chat with the director and try on my costume, which consists of a Mexican sombrero the size of a manhole cover, an itchy Mexican serape along with baggy peasant-style pants and a shirt.

After getting into costume -- which, because I am not what you would call a principal character, I had to accomplish by changing among the racks of outfits in the back of the wardrobe department -- I wasn't feeling overly sexy in a strict operatic sense.

"Don't I get a gun?" is what I whined to Rob Herriot.

"No," he replied, sadly, "you don't get a gun."

"OK. What exactly am I, Rob?"

The director beamed in delight. "You're the sleeping cowboy!" he gushed.

"The what?" I grunted, because, as a crusading journalist, I am trained to ask the hard questions.

"The sleeping cowboy," Rob continued. "You're this guy who just sleeps. You're a regular at the hotel. You sneak in because it's shady and fall asleep in a corner. You're mostly texture."

I scrunched my face in operatic confusion. "So, when you shout 'Action!' I basically do nothing?" I asked.

"You just sleep," Rob confirmed. "You're slumped up against the wall, head down, oblivious to everything. You're like the Norman Fell character in the disaster movie Airport 1975. He slept through the entire thing.

"There's one moment where you wake up, and that should be a big surprise to the audience."

I informed Rob I was more than qualified for this part because several years ago I was cast as a dead body in the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre's production of Our Town, an extremely challenging role because, when you are required to remain motionless, the first thing that happens is you are overcome with the overpowering urge to pick your nose on stage.

"You're not dead; you're just dozing, catching 40 winks," is what Rob advised me. Just to be safe, however, he made me sit in a corner and slump over under my gigantic sombrero.

"You're a natural," the director said after a few seconds, pleased with my remarkable ability to do absolutely nothing.

For a few moments, I sat on the floor under the watch of Missy West, the costume supervisor overseeing the fittings for Don Pasquale. It was clear something was worrying her. "How do your pants feel?" Missy asked. "You don't want your crotch too low because then you won't be able to stand up."

I may not know a lot about opera, but I'll bet no one ever said that to Clint Eastwood.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 8, 2013 A2

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