The hardest scene to stage was the truce scene at the end of Act I. My part was to climb up a metal ladder to the top of the French bunker and peer out into no-man’s-land. I had very strong hamstrings at the end because I must have spent about 20 hours standing on that thing. It was time well spent because the scene ended up working beautifully. It was a good thing we spent all that time rehearsing because when we got on stage with the orchestra, from where I was standing on top of the ladder, the ONLY thing I could hear was the bagpipe (who was playing offstage). The bagpipe plays in a different key than the French soldiers’ music, so I had to just trust in all those hours of work that I would somehow make myself not listen to the bagpipe and sing the right notes!
The first day we rehearsed my [spoiler alert] death scene, I was so into it my helmet flew off and I smacked my head on the floor. I was convinced I had concussed myself.
Every night I had the best seat in the house to hear Bill Burden’s Act II aria, and every night he made Karin Wolverton cry. I will never forget that.
We spent the first several days of rehearsal sitting at the table, reading through the libretto, and discussing our characters. That is luxury that rarely happens in opera, and it made all the difference.
I remember at the very first workshop when I heard the chorus sing the “Sleep Chorus” … everyone in the room knew we were working on a very special piece.