Opera fans around the world tend to gravitate to the oft-put upon leading lady. After all, many of our favorite operas are stories of women in distress—Carmen, Tosca, Aïda, Norma—all heroines tried by circumstance. What the audience might not recognize are the challenges each of our favorite divas encounter while trying to execute often complicated stage business at the same time they are dodging unwanted suitors, committing murder or trying to survive consumption in service to the plot of the opera. A diva’s work is never done!
One of the most complex issues that often goes overlooked is that the leading lady frequently has to don costumes of a different period or culture – which can make it difficult to move and sing. For Tulsa Opera’s season opening production of La Traviata, the women are dressed in late bustle period gowns from the 1870’s, complete with bum pads, voluminous petticoats and restrictive boned bodices.
Kelly Kaduce, one of the most coveted singing actresses today, has become quite the pro at making singing in these costumes look effortless.
I first had the pleasure of working with Kelly when she sang the role of Gretel in Hansel and Gretel at New York City Opera in 2002. Since then, Kelly’s star has continued to rise due to her skillful acting chops and the beauty of her voice. She has made headlines as the heroine in David Carlson’s Anna Karenina, Salome at Opera Theatre of St. Louis and most recently as Cio Cio San in a new production of Madama Butterfly for Santa Fe Opera.
It was during the run of Madama Butterfly, that I caught up with Kelly and asked her to share some of her nearly patented leading lady secrets for having to navigate some very problematic costumes:
On singing in a corset:
Some singers really like it . . . I am NOT one of those singers. Despite the fact that I dislike it, I find myself having to do it frequently! I have found a few things to be helpful along the way. First off, the sooner I can rehearse with the corset the better. I like to get to the point where it feels odd to sing without wearing it. Another little trick I like to do is when my dresser is tightening the corset. I like to puff up my rib-cage and upper abdomen as full as I can for the final tightening. That seems to reduce the feeling of claustrophobia for me and assures me that I have all the room I need to take my fullest breath. And lastly, when it is possible, I try to do my vocal warm-ups in the corset, even if that means getting to the theater early and being in the corset an hour before the show starts.
- There will be no walking backwards more than one step. If you do, you are on top of your train and getting off it gracefully is almost impossible. The best way to navigate is to make little circles. If you need to make a complete 180 turn, you have to do it in a round-about way . . . literally!
- Someone will inevitably step on your train at some point. I try to help people avoid this by giving myself a little extra room when navigating among my colleagues. Once again, making the little arcs is helpful here.
- Going to the bathroom can be a serious problem if you are not careful! My suggestion is to sit FACING the flusher.
- I also seem to find myself thrown on the floor at some point. This can be disaster in a period costume. You can never be thrown backwards. Once again, getting up off the train will be an ugly sight. It has to be either forward or on your side. Getting up is tricky. If possible, you have to take it slow and move as much of the skirt out of your way as possible. Then rise SLOWLY! That way if you are standing on any part of your skirt, you can fix it on your way up without falling again and hopefully fix it gracefully. I find the best way is to make sure your toes never leave the floor. Meaning when you do the fall and are lying on the ground, make sure some part of your feet are always touching the floor. The moment you lift them, the chance that your skirt will bunch up under your feet increases.
- My last tip is walking. You can’t walk like a modern day woman in a period costume. Your steps have to be shorter. It is quite practical really. Imagine the large, heavy skirt. If you take to large of a step to the front, your toe might grab the front hem. And if you kick up too high in the back, your heel may get caught on the back hem.
You can catch Kelly polishing the tricks of her craft in her United States debut as Violetta in our season opening production of La Traviata on October 9, 15 and 17, 2010.
To read more about Kelly, visit her website.
To purchase tickets to La Traviata, click here.