HOW ARE COACHES LIKE OPERA PROMPTERS?
BTW, what's an opera prompter?? And what's that got to do with emotional intelligence?
by Susan Dunn, M.A., Personal Life & Dating Coach
5 hours you’re standing on-stage, often not singing yourself, but still required to be present. How do you keep from drifting off? Soprano Christine Brewer, soprano with the San Francisco Opera, admitted, in a Wall Street Journal article by Thomas S. Burton, entitled “It’s Not Over (Yet) for Those Who Cue Divas,” that in a recent 5-hour performance of Wagner’s TRISTAN UND ISOLDE, it happened to her. She drifted off, and Jonathan Kuhner saved her life.
Jonathan Kuhner … Philip Eisenberg … know these names? Philip Eisenberg’s name appears on the SF opera program as “Philip Eisenberg, Assistant for Artists, Emeritus. What do these gentleman do? They’re PROMPTERS for operas, and, according to one source, there are fewer than 10 prompters working full-time in U. S. companies these days.
Are they needed?
Well according to Baritone Nathan Gunn, “They always get the biggest applause at cast parties.” One can imagine how many lives and careers they have saved. Don’t you wish you had one?? Well now you can ... but read on.
Gunn pointed out that if you see a singer standing longer than they should at front-center stage, it’s probably because they’re lost and looking to the prompter to lead them back.
Or looking for confidence. A recent article described James Johnson, 68-year-old prompter, descending into the prompter’s box (it doesn’t even have a real name!) minutes before the beginning of Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin,” where, as the orchestra of the Chicago Lyric Opera began, he kept the beat with his hands, said the first word of many lines, and [exuded] confidence so the singers stayed calm.”
Many of the prompters are ‘of an age’ – many operas must be known (and remember, each has ‘so many words’), and many languages (those ‘many words’ are not always in the singer’s native tongue). They also have to have a lot of emotional intelligence. Opera singers say they can also serve as “your voice of reason and practicality,” when the conductor speaks in that foreign language they do, i.e., “sing like an obelisk,” or “you’re making a sound that’s domelike. I want a parabola.” The opera stars look to the prompters to interpret.
Don’t you wish you had one at work, when your boss says “prioritize according to the functionality,” or “I don’t care, just make sure you choose the RIGHT place.” (This is what personal life coaches do – help you interpret.)
Or don’t you wish you had one to guide you through your role as leading man or romantic heoine in your own romantic drama? Someone to help you keep the beat (how often to call her, how often to see her), to interpret the silence (why doesn’t he call?), or to translate the foreign-speak (“What does a woman mean when she says…?”) This is what personal life coaches do.
Back to those opera prompters, I guess since the orchestra sits between you and me in the audience, and the singers on stage, we do not hear, for instance, when the beat gets ragged and the prompter pounds on the floor of the box to make the beat more pronounced to the singers. Or when, according to a Wall Street Journal article about prompters, Christine Brewer lost her way, started singing the role of another, and the prompter leaned out of the box and yelled, “Stop singing.”
The WSJ article hastens to laud Ms. Brewer’s voice … why are we so hesitant to acknowledge that needing assistance about certain things does not negate other skills? Of course you’re tops in the field of law, but that’s a lot different from courting the woman of your dreams? Of maybe you’re Wife and Mother of the Year, but your career sure could use some coaching.
Prompters are like coaches, because they prepare the singers beforehand, as well as guiding them during. “The prompter’s job,” says Burton, in the WSJ, “combines the skills of a conductor, musicologist and linguist, with an unusual ability to listen to the orchestra, keep time with the hands and deliver the singers’ lines a moment before the downbeat.”
Kuhner describes it as “juggling.” That’s often how I feel as a coach – maintaining the beat for the client’s juggling act!
“Operas just have so many words,” said soprano Susan Graham, in praise of the prompters, who are making a comeback. “I’m a big lover of prompters,” she said.
Need it be said that in Italy, where they originated, they’ve continued all along, but opera houses in the U. S. are bringing them back after a lapse.
Wouldn’t you like to have a prompter when you’re stage-center, whether it be in dating, career, parenting or retirement? That’s what coaching is all about: preparing you beforehand, and making it easier during, for a professional and successful outcome. It’s someone to teach you the lines “when there are so many words,” to interpret the words of others, prompt you and prepare you so you are self-assured, and stick with you until your Perfect Performance is completed and the applause is ringing in your ears. Also I might add, and this will make you laugh -- to tell you when to stop singing!
A personal life coach can also greatly increase your productivity. Caruso wouldn’t have thought of performing without a prompter, and because of this, he typically did one opera one night in one town, and another opera the next night in another town.
Consider, for instance, if you are seriously looking for a lifetime partner on online dating sites. How on earth do you keep track of it all, and how do you know what to do when with each contender … kind of like a 5-hour Wagnerian opera isn’t it? Thank heavens for prompters, and thank heavens for coaches. I know I have greatly increased the success-capacity of many clients, and together we have pulled off some “bravo” and “encore” performances.
“My coach is someone to come back to and check in with along the way,” says one of my clients. “Susan eliminates a lot of static for me so I can concentrate on my game.”
In fact, pretty similar to WSJ’s description of a prompter as “…a safety net and a friendly face, allowing performers to concentrate more…” adding, “They help keep complex and loud passages together.”
For coaching, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org . Dating coaching a specialty.