29 Marzo 2017
Silvia Allegri (6 articles)
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Charm and secrets of the backstage

INTERVIEW – Opera isn’t simply carried out on stage, under the spotlight and the eyes of the public. The Maestro Fabio Fapanni is going to unveil the magic that happens behind the scenes.

A knock on the door, a song in the distance and the plot unwinds in a way that could not be foreseen, surprising the public. Opera isn’t simply carried out on stage, under the spotlight and the eyes of the public. In theatrical lingo, everything that happens away from the view of the people and the scene, is referred to as the “inner dimension”. This plays a crucial role in the plot, it varies a lot and it is incredibly important.
What makes it possible for everything that goes on stage to be in perfect harmony with what happens behind the stage? The Maestro Fabio Fapanni is going to talk about the charm and the magic of the backstage. He is a renowned professional, for whom the Arena has been like a second house for the last forty years, and for whom the amphitheatre no longer has any secrets.

– Maestro Fapanni, what does it entail to be the musical director of the stage?
« It entails the coordination of the other maestri – there are ten of them in a theatre such as the Arena – and the preparation and management of all the musical parts that take place backstage. It also consists in creating and managing what can be heard but not seen on stage, such as the slamming of a door, a gunshot, a shout or even a whole musical performance».

– If you had to indicate it with a percentage, how many are the Operas where backstage effects are needed?
«I would say that all Operas need them. The presence of these effects is constant in the lyrical show. It creates a three-dimensional space and it often adds intensity and meaning. The set is created in all the theatres, and there are maestri that undertake various tasks in collaboration with the technical and artistic sectors. In the absence of the stage musical director there are other people of reference. These have had their own evolution in time and they are named differently depending on the artistic facility».

– What challenges do you face when you coordinate what happens backstage?
«What happens backstage is already physically far away from the orchestra and the conductor. More so is the distance from behind the scenes, where the connection with the outside, in other words the orchestra director, is only made possible by a monitor that must never be out of sight. There is an aspect that is more important than the physical side of things and the delay in the sound transmission; although these must not be underestimated. This aspect is the time of inertia between the conductor’s gesture and its interpretation. It is important to try to eliminate it and to minimize reaction times».

– Are there specific rehearsals for the set?
«Yes, and their main goal is the following: to eliminate the time of reaction of the instrumentalists and of the singers in relation to who keeps the rhythm. This is why it is important to know how to anticipate, in order to facilitate who has to perform from behind the scenes. Furthermore, all the musical instruments have different reaction times depending on the instrument itself, and every musician has to keep their own time. This also applies to the chorus».

– You have been scene director, light director, prompter and stage director. Would you have ever imagined that you would have become backstage musical director?
«I never took into consideration this job because I found out about its existence only when I started it. It was Gastone De Ambrogi, excellent Maestro and dear friend, who had faith in me. I would have learnt so much from him if he hadn’t passed away prematurely. I have always thought that this role should be undertaken by an experienced person, and relatively older than I was when I first started. Usually it represents the point of arrival of a long pathway».

– Are you ever afraid of making mistakes, of not being perfectly coordinated with what happens on stage and in the orchestra?
«Of course, I have developed a CV in such matter. From where I stand, I can’t perceive how what I do is heard outside, and I am therefore obliged to proceed blindfolded. I don’t have a direct feedback on how the performance went, it is only thanks to some of my co-workers and precious friends that I find out if it went well or not».

– What is the best part of your job?
«Once you overcome the difficulty of performing practically blindfolded, the sensation that you feel is special, it could be compared to the feeling that you experience when you are learning to ride a bike, with the difference that this sensation is renewed every time.  In order to be in harmony with what happens on the stage, one must neither anticipate nor delay. You must always be ahead, but not too much. You are in a time frame that is neither before nor after; it is an absolutely unique time zone. The only clue that gives you confirmation that what you are doing is right, is the gesture of the conductor that carries on fluently, without stumbling. It is in that precise moment that one experiences the pleasant feeling of navigating in what is perfect synchrony».

– What is your biggest worry when you work?
«The constant danger of possible issues with the monitor, from which I watch the orchestra director. If it shuts down or if it freezes you must find an immediate alternative, which isn’t always ideal, such as the cut of a scene».

– Often your role also expects you to direct from the stage, dressed up as a background actor who is perfectly camouflaged to the eyes of the public. Can you recall a moment when your nerves were put to the test?
«One of the most difficult scenes is the one of the third act of Un ballo in maschera. With the rings of the orchestra there is a very fast and complicated change of scene. There has been an occasion where I had to perform it whilst acting, directing my musicians on stage who were hidden behind a carriage. What made it challenging was the fact that this carriage kept turning on itself, losing pieces from its roof and its walls. Whilst it was falling in pieces, we carried on as if nothing was happening».

Silvia Allegri

Top photo: the Master Fabio Fapanni
Translate by Francesca Dunning

Silvia Allegri

Silvia Allegri

Silvia Allegri, laureata in lettere con una tesi su una cantante del ‘600, ha sempre adorato la musica di tutti i generi, dalla lirica al rock, e fin da giovanissima ha studiato violino e pianoforte. Ha vissuto a Vienna, per studio e lavoro: lì ha potuto approfondire le sue conoscenze musicali frequentando il vivace ambiente artistico della città ed entrando in contatto con musicisti di tutto il mondo. Giornalista pubblicista, collabora con diverse testate scrivendo di cultura, ambiente, animali, cronaca. silvia@silviaallegri.it

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