Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

I've found a new career

It involves black velvet, makeup and canoodling

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What with the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East and recovering from a Grey Cup hangover, I suspect most of you are champing at the bit to hear how I made out in my big opera debut Saturday night.

Unless you've spent the past few weeks hiding in a drainpipe, you will know I was able to persuade the lovely folks at Manitoba Opera to cast me as a supernumerary -- the operatic word for an extra -- in their production of Verdi's Rigoletto.

It is extremely difficult, using mere words, to describe how awesome it feels to be standing on the big stage at the Centennial Concert Hall, sweating like a Butterball Turkey in a 16th-century black velvet operatic outfit and several pounds of makeup, and, when the curtain goes up, flinging a beautiful woman over your shoulders, paddling her on the posterior region and eventually plopping her on some comfy cushions to engage in hardcore operatic canoodling while all around you dozens of professional opera persons are singing loudly in Italian, but I will try: It's totally awesome!

At one point, and if you have ever heard me in the shower you are going to have a tough time believing this, they let me sing. Yes, at a vital moment in the raucous Act 1 party scene in the duke's castle, I join with all the other velvet-clad guys in the chorus to belt out a single word: "Vendetta!"

We really stretch this word out -- "Ven-de-et-ta!" -- and it is extremely dramatic because we are trying to convey the operatic concept of being really angry, although I do not totally understand why we are so angry because, like I said, we are singing in Italian

As a singer, I sound like a frog caught in a blender, but that is not my operatic point. My operatic point is I was having the time of my life. At first, being in the opera felt like being in the army because there's a lot of "hurry up and wait." As an extra, you wait to get into costume, wait to have your makeup done, wait for someone to tell you what to do.

But the reality is, being in the opera is more like being in a family, a huge wacky family at an over-the-top Thanksgiving dinner, where everyone welcomes you with open arms and you almost never get whacked over the head with a casserole dish, even if you do something really dumb.

In the last two weeks, I've spent a lot of time backstage hobnobbing with members of this family and exchanging professional opera remarks, such as: "Where'd you get that coffee?" And: "Can I try on your hat?"

But the main thing I've learned is this -- they do it because they love it.

As I nervously squeezed into my costume Saturday night, I grilled Mark Brubacher, a big shot tax accountant by day and a spear-toting opera extra by night, about how he became a volunteer member of this tight-knit opera entourage.

"Back in 2000, I was at the YMCA on the treadmill and a woman comes up and gives me a blue piece of paper and I stuffed it in my pocket," the muscular 49-year-old recalled as he adjusted his awesome Conquistador-style helmet.

"When I got to the change room, I looked at it and it said Manitoba Opera was looking for some fit and toned men to be soldiers in Aida. Initially, I wasn't going to do it. Later, back at the office, they encouraged us to do something out of the box and they said: 'Go for it!'

"Now, 11 operas later, I'm still doing it. I get to carry a sword and scale a ladder. I love it. It's a great group."

The highlight of my opera debut? It came when, after singing my one and only word at the top of my lungs, some of the chorus guys casually sidled over onstage and whispered: "Hey, Doug, you sounded great!"

Yes, I know they were lying to make me feel good, but it's OK. Because that's what families are supposed to do.

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

See review / D4

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 26, 2012 $sourceSection0

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