“How am I going to compete with the disco ball?” asked Rachael Marino during rehearsal for the upcoming Florida Opera Theatre production of Leonard Bernstein’s “Trouble in Tahiti.”
“You’re not,” replied the director Eric Pinder with a wicked grin. “The disco ball has top billing.”
“That’s the way it always is,” said Marino, laughing.
Marino plays the female lead Dinah a 1950s-era wife and mother, discontent in her personal life.
But unlike her character, Marino is living her personal dream, finding fulfillment after leaving behind the workaday world in 2011 to focus fully on her musical career.
“I grew up dreaming about a career in musical theater,” she said. “It wasn’t until I got to college that I discovered opera.”
“Opera is like musical theater on steroids. For me, it’s very real, the intensity of emotion is what I find really exciting.”
Marino glances around the room while rehearsing an intense scene as if looking for sympathy, exhausted by the difficult emotions of her character. Dinah’s exasperation with her selfish husband has reached its peak.
“Just like real life, opera doesn’t require a happy ending,” Marino said. “I think that’s what I like about it, it’s raw and real.”
Gabe Preisser plays her husband Sam a moody man caught up in his own interests, ignorant of the needs of his wife and family.
Preisser grew up in Apopka as the son of educators in a self-professed “sports family” – an unlikely beginning for an up-and-coming opera star.
“I took chorus and piano because it was what my mom wanted me to do,” Preisser said. “Besides, there were a lot of girls there.”
A fact that proved all too true when Preisser later met his future wife in the music program at Florida State University.
Preisser appears to be the opposite of his character as well – family takes priority, he said. He returned to Florida after grad school in Texas to be close to home.
Sitting alone on the sidelines, he quietly goes over his music as he waits his entrance in the next scene.
His turn on set arrives and he asks several questions, making his own suggestions and displaying the attention to detail that makes his performance so believable.
Director Eric Pinder welcomes such collaboration.
“I like to listen to actors’ suggestions,” he said. “The singers bring things I never thought of.”
Twitching his high top Converse sneakers to the beat of the music, Pinder takes notes as the performers rehearse the last few scenes in the one-act opera.
His suggestions at this point are like icing on the cake, smoothing over any rough spots, encouraging and tweaking as needed.
“There is a beautiful irony to this opera, it’s about regular people with relationship issues, something we can all relate to,” Pinder said.
“Because of its modern themes and the fact that it is written in English, it is a very accessible opera, something even non-opera fans can get into.”
The show will open with opera’s greatest hits followed by “Trouble in Tahiti,” giving the audience a taste of opera’s great variety.
Morgan Davis, Anthony Ciaramitaro and Sean Stork make up the ‘Greek Chorus.’
The trio adds a touch of irony and humor to the production, breaking in at inopportune moments with bursts of song, reminiscent of early television commercials.
On stage their voices harmonize perfectly as one voice.
Off stage they check their phones, laugh together and kid around like old friends.
The easy camaraderie may be due in part to the time both Davis and Ciaramitaro spend together on campus at Rollins.
Davis is a professor of voice and Ciaramitaro is a music performance major.
At 22, Ciaramitaro sings and acts well beyond his years, displaying a maturity and grace one would equate to more experienced performers.
Perhaps that’s because he spends so much time performing all over town.
“I’ll go anywhere they’ll have me,” Ciaramitaro said. “Just to keep singing.”
He started as a choirboy in 7th grade, singing all the way through middle school and high school before auditioning for Rollins and Miami.
“Rollins won out of course, so here I am,” he said.
Ciaramitaro may be the shortest one on stage, but he makes up for it with his impressive range, reaching up into the higher octaves with ease.
Mingling with his fellow performers, one would think he was a seasoned pro.
“Opera feels like home to me,” said Ciaramitaro, a senior set to graduate in May.
“I sing everywhere, because I love it. I’ve performed in churches, at the Macaroni Grill in Altamonte Springs, with The Villages Philharmonic, the Bach Festival Society. I’m in three ensembles at Rollins. I don’t have a regular job; singing is it for me.”
Davis may teach at Rollins, but for now she’s the student, listening, watching and learning from her director and fellow performers.
“Doing this makes me a better teacher, the things I learn here, I put right back into my students,” she said.
“I feel blessed to be doing both, [teaching and performing]. It’s nice to see both sides.”
As Pinder wraps up the rehearsal for the night, he congratulates the entire cast on a successful evening.
“We’re almost there guys; in just a few days, this thing is on stage and all this hard work will pay off,” he said.
Despite their different backgrounds and career paths, all have their love of performance, especially opera, in common.
Gabe Preisser may have spoken for the entire cast when he said, “It’s a big risk to put yourself out there and it’s very gratifying to me to have ‘made’ it.”