The first time I ever saw the Keller Auditorium was when I accidentally found the Ira Keller Fountain. At the time I was showing a couch surfer from Montana around Portland, and it was a lovely, serendipitous thing to happen upon. I saw the auditorium building from the fountain, saw how big it was. A Sunday performance of some kind went to intermission and from the doors spilled wealthy-looking patrons in fine dress — so different from us ruffians splashing around in cold water across the street.
Last night was my first time inside the Keller, and like my entire Opera experience, it started through the back door.
Past the security guard in his tiny office.
Up two flights of narrow, bare stairs. Past the doors with the soloists names on them, and into the big room that said simply, “super chefs”. Into a room with real showbiz mirrors with bulbs encircling the edges, casting eerie lines in our eyes’ highlights.
We had time to go watch. Back down the stairs to the ground level and through a doorway where world is suddenly carpeted and wide and lit beautifully. Make a sharp corner, and oh my goodness it’s the house. And there’s the stage.
To watch the performances from the house is to relinquish the intimacy of watching the rough sketches as we have these past few weeks. We are no longer sitting in folding chairs yards away from the table, ducking flying food, privy to very slight changes in facial expressions, we now take in the entire scene as a whole. But it’s meant to be taken in as a whole. Really it’s meant to be taken in with an orchestra and actual stage singing and an audience. So once again Opera added a few more elements to the bigger picture, and once again I was dazzled.
And the sets are beautiful. Sort of spartan yet textured in a way that makes the light fall on it very beautifully (and in ways difficult to depict). The angles of things remind me deliciously of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, though I think our world will be a little more realistic than that world, cake house and all. It’s a thing of beauty, and it’s a pleasure to be a part of it.
As this was our first night at the Keller (as a production that is, most people seem very familiar and at home with the space,) the night was mostly spent figuring out HOW the movements and words fit into the physical set to create that fuller picture. All our ring leaders now wore headsets and carried clipboards and binders and seemed to have a lot to do. Messages to relay. Props to fix. Adjustments to make.
As I watched Act 1, voices from the soundboard would periodically cut in. Thank you, music would stop, singing would stop, and the choreographer and director would walk down the isle, over the orchestra-pit-bridge, and to the soloists to give inaudible notes. Stage people and assistant directors would pop out from the wings. Tape would be affixed to the floor. Sharp objects were sanded. Wobbly furniture stabilized. Bag-flinging trajectories asserted. The choreographer would act out something for the soloists to try. There was a lot of pointing to things to look for in the house, a lot of repetition, and a lot of laughter about things we couldn’t hear. It was great to watch, but it was certainly a spectator’s sport. Our separate scenes are now attended to separately, so there is less of a comradely feeling and more of a we are they players and you are the audience flavor to things.
But soon enough it was our turn. Learning about our own unique challenges like aiming wings through a passage backwards in the dark, adjusting our walking paths to the new dimensions of the table, learning how not to run into a black wall on a dark set with only a mesh screen to see through.
These are not pertinent problems for, say, the children’s choir, so of course it makes sense that they were not there. Nor were the trees or the performers not involved with the scene. Hansel and Gretel didn’t even go on stage with us until we walked our paths a couple of times, and one could say the whole scene is for them. So it makes sense. Mostly it’s so deliciously new and I’m so fascinated by it that I am greedy to see everything. There is just so much to look at.