All of us here at the Met Artists Newsletter love profiling our hard-working friends in other departments. A few issues ago, we all got to see how busy a staff performer’s life can be through the eyes of Anne Dyas. Now you get an even closer look at one of the Met’s most accomplished staff performers. Frank Colardo has been with the company since the 90’s, and is famously known for being the cowboy in La Fanciulla del West who takes a tumble off the balcony during a bar brawl, among many other important non-singing roles.
This article is a transcription of a live interview on the Met Opera Sirius Channel (Channel 75, to be exact), which was originally broadcast on December 22nd, 2010. Many thanks to Sara Heaton and Liz Sciblo for their transcription skills, and to Daniel Clark Smith and Anne Dyas for their photo assistance.
Interviewer: Frank Colardo has been a supernumerary at The Metropolitan Opera since the 1990’s. Now, a supernumerary is the operatic equivalent of an extra but Frank certainly does a whole lot more. Audiences will recognize his cameo appearance in recent seasons as The Nose in Shostakovich’s opera of the same title. He was the police commissioner in Berg’s Lulu, he has been the dead (narcoleptic man), Buoso Donati, in Gianni Schicchi, has been the photographer in the sextet from Lucia, he’s been a dresser for Dmitri Hvorostovsky during Eugene Onegin, and as soon as he walked in the door I said you were one of the servants in Don Pasquale, the funny guy who had the wig on that Don Pasquale pulled off! Now, this season here at The Met he is featured doing stunts in La Fanciulla del West and he will be seen as a central focus of the new Willy Decker production of La Traviata that opens Friday. We want to welcome Frank Colardo to Met Opera radio. Hi!
Frank: Hi! Thank you.
I: Tell us what you did in the scene in the act that we were just listening to.
F: Well, I’m on the balcony and I get in a little ruckus with one of the guys, and he throws a punch at me which sends me into the banister. The banister breaks and I lose my balance and of course he wants to push me off. And I leap into the air and hopefully get caught before I hit the ground.
I: Are you a stunt man, actually?
F: No, I’ve never done stunts before.
I: Before this time?
F: Before this time. B.H. Barry, who put together this fight, is a terrific, terrific teacher so he actually got me to do it.
I: Was it hard to make yourself jump off?
F: Well, there’s definitely a fear factor, oh yes. Besides just jumping off it’s also the feeling of flying, the feeling of falling, not many people are used to that and I’m actually falling probably about 10 feet because I have to jump up which is higher than the balcony. So, it’s those two things, plus what you do just before you jump. The music is frantic and you have to stay calm and listen to the music to know when to scream so the guys down there know they have to catch me. It’s all timed and you have to stay relaxed and then you just have to go! It’s a leap of faith.
I: And really count on them to be there to catch you!
F: Oh, definitely. They’re great guys and I know they’ll be there.
I: Do you like doing it now?
F: It’s getting to be a lot more fun. At first it was scary and exhilarating at the same time. I mean, really at the same time.
I: So you are not really just a walk-on, walk-off type of a super. Have you ever done that kind of spear carrying before?
F: Oh, sure. My first opera here was Aida and that’s spear carrying. [laughs]
I: On the highest order! And several times! You go around and around in the Triumphal scene. Tell us about some of the other scenes you‘ve done. Donati, lying dead in the bed?
F: You have to be dead for 40 minutes! You pray you don’t need to cough or sneeze or itch because that would be deadly. Most people think that you can just fall asleep, which you can’t. If you fall asleep you could involuntarily move. So, you have to stay with it. But it’s great because they’re all singing around you and it’s wonderful to hear all the voices going crazy all around you. I mean, it’s fun, but you have to be focused and do what you have to do.
I: But there must be some sort of technique that you have to employ to get yourself so relaxed that you really aren’t going to be moving in any way.
F: I tell people this: As far as doing that part, it’s like when you’re on the beach and you’re starting to doze but you’re still awake so you are in control, it’s that feeling. Then they pick me up and take me into the tub and I’m there for another 10-15 minutes.
I: But we don’t see you in the tub! You get to go get a cup of coffee or something.
F: You see my leg hanging out!
I: Oh, okay! [laughs] So you were also the photographer in the sextet of Lucia. That was a sort of a controversial staging, the Mary Zimmerman staging. Did anyone come up to you and have anything to say to you about that?
F: Well, no they didn’t.
I: I loved it; I thought it was great!
F: I think they know that I’m just doing what I’m supposed to do. I think it’s interesting that something is actually happening during the sextet. Everybody wants them to stand there and sing but there’s something going on! That makes sense, I think.
I: In Don Pasquale, you were the servant who came walking in and Pasquale is sort of fussing and fuming. You come in with a powdered, white wig and Pasquale is all dressed to meet Sophronia. It’s not until he grabs the wig off of your head and puts it on his own head that we realize that that was not your hair at all!
F: That’s his wig, yes!
I: That gets a real laugh every single time. Do you have fun doing this sort of thing?
F: Yes, yes I do! That’s fun. There’s really no stress for that. That’s really just having fun and being right there. I am hearing the singers! Anna [Netrebko], I hear her all the time. I’m 2 feet away from her. It’s great!
I: So tell me about this: have you just loved working in opera? You’re a stage man. You love being in opera?
F: Oh, yes. I’ve become an opera fan, of course, and I appreciate all that’s around me when I’m in these productions. I know they’re world-class voices and I’ve learned all of the operas. Typical American, before I came here never saw an opera, never wanted to. Aida blew me away! Big sets, lots of animals, lots of people, really nice music. You know, that sold me.
Interesting about Traviata that I found out with stage rehearsals this week is that, normally, at the end of Act 1, when Violetta’s singing her famous aria, she’s the only one on stage. This time, I actually get to be on stage with her but you don’t know I’m there. I’m behind the clock.
I: Okay, now let’s explain what you’re going to be doing with Traviata. This is the Willy Decker production.
F: Yes. The clock moves. There’s a great big clock and it moves, it has a life, and it’s to represent how much time she has left. At parts it starts racing and it freaks her out, but I have to move the clock for the entire first act and the second half of Act Two. So I’m on that stage when she’s singing her solos and all that and, like I said, at the end of Act One, when no one’s on stage except her, I’m feet away from her and just the sound is glorious and I’m loving it.
I: I find it hard to believe that there’s a person controlling that clock in this age of such high technology that there isn’t some sort of mechanism being controlled by somebody off stage. Why are you doing it?
F: Well it’s stage time, the clock is running twice as fast as real time. And then it speeds up during the stretta section, which she then runs over to stop because she wants to stop time from racing ahead because she knows there’s only so much. And then also in the second act, the clock becomes a gambling table, like a roulette wheel. So you have to be aware and know the cues when someone’s going to spin the hand, and I have to know when to stop it at certain points. You have to finesse it. And also they want the winners to be different each time so the chorus can be excited and more into it. There are times when it has to point to Alfredo so that’s a given because you know he wins. So that’s how it works and I think that’s why they want a person to do it.
I: We’re talking with Frank Colardo who is a supernumerary here at the Metropolitan Opera. You were also referred to as “Staff Performer”, so that means you’re on staff; you’re not hired from show to show?
F: No, I’m full time. This is my way of making a living.
I: Of the Willy Decker production of Traviata, this is a production that got its start at the Salzburg Festival and people had loved it. I think it was 2005 when it first showed up. What’s it like working and rehearsing this production with Mr. Decker?
F: Well he doesn’t deal with me at all, actually I’ve learned everything from Meisje Hummel, his assistant who was here before he arrived, and she’s terrific. So I learned what’s required of me and then they pretty much let me go and do what I have to do. Willy’s busy with everybody else.
I: How many shows are you in at one time?
F: I can be here every night, week after week after week. As of right now though, none of us are in [The Magic] Flute. We used to do the old Flute which was a lot of fun being the animals, but now in the new Flute the dancers are doing it, so it’s a night off.
I: What animals were you in Flute?
F: I was the lion-bear kind of thing which he actually pets, and then, [Tamino] did something to me, but I was in a suit and I can’t remember what it was now. He hit me and something else ….
I: [laughing] You can’t tell from underneath that suit!
F: He hit me with the flute I think!
I: How’d you get started doing this? How’d you get started with Aida, I mean, were you an actor before that?
F: Yes, I was a song and dance man. I did concert dance and then I moved to Broadway musicals. I was bartending, which is a fill-in survival job between gigs, and one of the bartenders I worked with was a tumbler in Aida. When he found out that I had stage experience he said “Would you like to come to the opera one night?”, because a friend of his was going to be out. And I thought, “oh, that would be a kick”, and I thought I was really going to be here one night. And now, years and years later, here I am.
I: You’re taking flying leaps and audiences can see from the world over Frank Colardo take one of those leaps in La Fanciulla del West. On January 8th (2010) we’re going to be broadcasting the performance in movie theaters as part of our live in HD series. That won’t be your first time will it, in the HD?
I: Fantastic. It’s been great talking to you.
F: You too! Thank you.
Note from the Editor: Check out the wildly entertaining Met Opera Supers Instagram account at @metoperasupers. You’ll get a lot more Frank action, including a new favorite, the #frankdance, which should not be missed.