A mystery, even if it’s a musical one, is nothing without its parade of suspects. But behind one of those paper face hides a dark heart with evil intentions. With a masked villain on the loose, it may be a tricky time figuring out who done it. A closer inspection of the characters in Exit Prima Donna could prove useful. Writer/director Daniel Stallings and his cast of brilliant performers will give you their insights into each of the divas behind this murder mystery opera.
PAPER FACES: The Making of Exit Prima Donna (Part 3)
In detective fiction, there are a lot of masks. Suspects are lying everywhere you turn, hiding behind a mask of confusion or guilt or angelic innocence. It takes a sleuth to pierce that mask and delve into the bald-faced truth of the human heart. Which is the true face? Which is nothing more than paper, paint, and glitter? I’m going to let my cast lift their masks for a bit and tell what makes their character tick. Of course…we’re not going to reveal everything. What’s the fun in that?
So here’s the talented cast and suspects of Exit Prima Donna!
Donatella Violetta is the prima donna, the star soprano of the Teatro Venezia opera house in Venice. Donatella is a reserved diva who is friendly with the others but doesn’t encourage much intimacy with her co-workers. Her loner status makes her a mystery and somewhat of a pariah in the company as she doesn’t share the same jocular sense of companionship. She is kidnapped at the beginning of the play, although most of the company believe she is just pulling an attention-seeking stunt. Two-time MMP veteran and Skeleton Key Award winner, Heather McGaha (Bury Me in Paris, Femme Fatales), returns to our stage as Donatella and here are her thoughts on her character:
“The part of Donatella Violetta is a challenging one. Her childhood was filled with a great amount of emotional abuse at the hand of her mother, who had great expectations for Donatella to follow in her footsteps as prima donna. Donatella, still burdened with the scars from her childhood, is left with a burning desire to never be alone again. She finds solace in her surrogate mother Leonora, who gives her the love and nuturing she has always longed for. Despite her attempts to live up to her mother’s standards, she is plagued with guilt and the feeling that her mother is always lording over in disapproval.”
Leonora worked with Signora, Donatella’s mother and a former prima donna, for many years, serving not as only as dresser at the Teatro Venezia, but also as a companion, confidante, and even a nanny to Donatella when she was a child. She taught Donatella needlecraft, a pastime Donatella enjoys when she isn’t performing. Leonora is a longtime fixture at the opera house, claiming to know all its secrets. She is devoted to Donatella, as devoted as any mother would be. Skeleton Key and Diamond Mask winner, Nicole Johnson (Ode to Agatha, The Silent City), makes this her third show in the role of Leonora. Here she’ll tell us about this character.
“Leonora is a Catholic woman whose greatest loves are God and Donatella. Leonora never had children, so Donatella IS her daughter at heart. Leonora is a mama bear. I was able to bring her to life by focusing on what we have in common and the terror I have felt when I have my son in Walmart. Not the same as having your surrogate daughter kidnapped, but still scary at the same time. Leonora is also from a bygone time. Being a child of the 1970’s (Fun Fact: I was conceived at Woodstock.), I can kind of understand why Leonora feels the way she does.”
The male star of the opera house, Giuseppe Rodolfo is a popular tenor often paired with Donatella for shows, despite his immodest opinion of himself. A Lothario of the first order, Giuseppe is something of a ham who has pretty much flirted with every female in the opera house. This raises major conflicts in the Teatro Venezia. However, Giuseppe is largely in his own fantasy world where he is the dashing, suave heartthrob, unwilling to take responsibility for the consequences of his exploits. Newcomer to MMP, James Aguirre (The Secret Garden) brings his point of view to this character.
“Giuseppe is very self-centered and arrogant. His interests drive him to win the affection of those around him. Giuseppe was an interesting character to take on as his mannerisms are opposite of how I carry myself. It has been fun to portray Giuseppe because he has a lot of charisma and personality. To help develop the character and the presence and emotion he should bring out in the audience, I turned to Joffrey Baratheon from Game of Thrones and Gaston from Beauty and the Beast.”
Leonardo is the dresser to Giuseppe, the leading man. Similarly devoted to Giuseppe as Leonora is to Donatella, Leonardo acts as a “facilitator” to his gentleman’s “conquests”: namely securing his numerous affairs with women. He says his main job is to keep his gentleman happy, even if the Don Juan is more like a Don Quixote. But there is a dark secret hanging over Leonardo’s head, one as dangerous as the sword of Damocles. Another newbie to Master Mystery Productions, but already an enormous talent, Rah Herrington makes her MMP debut in this role, and here are her thoughts on it:
“Leonardo, to me, is a gentleman who prides himself on doing a good job. Even if hr currently tailors a man he’d rather not share space with, Leonardo still wouldn’t send out anything less than perfection. I feel this plays into how he acts around others as well, in that he feels everyone else just doesn’t seem to be on the same level as him. I think Leonardo silently looks down on those around him, despite being of a lower class, and I feel his pride is what he holds onto, because he thinks it’s all he has over the others.”
A contemporary of Donatella, Marta Roma has been competing with the prima donna for major roles for years, often losing. While never cruel to Donatella, some of the company blame Marta for the kidnapping due to their professional rivalry. However, a secret affair may provide a more juicy motive for the crime. Marta was named as an homage to the creator of the Amargosa Opera House as we know it today, the late, great Marta Becket. Talented veteran opera singer and performer Elizabeth Pomazal (The Secret Garden) makes her Master Mystery Productions debut in a stunning double role, and here is her take on Marta Roma.
“Marta Roma is everything I am not. She is vague. She does whatever she needs to do to get to the top. She’s been second place for long enough. She’s willing to make questionable decisions in love. But ultimately, she cares deeply about the opera house. Her music is all that she has in life. Her song within the show mirror her playfulness in life with songs about drinking (first led by Giuseppe) and being in love. The latter song even goes so far as to stage her dream wedding.”
One of the old hands at Teatro Venezia, Pablo Orlando is a seasoned performer who has been part of more operas than any other in the company. His long memory, experience, and stories of the past has him acting as a sort of father figure to Donatella. He is a lonely man as most of the younger generation cannot identify with his era. His closest confidante is Leonora, Donatella’s dresser, who is the only one who recalls his youth and time in the sun. Seasoned performer Nate Clair (Measure for Measure, Sweeney Todd) returns to Master Mystery Productions for his second show after Goodbye Hollywood: At the Rainbow’s End in 2015. Here are his thoughts on the development of his character.
“Pablo Orlando is one of the senior members of the Teatro Venezia Opera House. In his mid sixties now, he has a great deal of on-stage experience and most defer to his advice whenever a problem arises. He is reserved, proud, and stoic. The member of the crew he relates to the most is Leonora. Leonora remembers when he was in his prime, when his strong voice could light up the night sky. But now he is old and alone. He moves deliberately and with intent, but at a moderate pace as he keeps his head up, and always in good posture as an example to others. For whenever trouble stars, he knows how to handle it, and everyone trusts him.”
Signora is a legend beyond comparison. Donatella’s mother, a former prima donna of the opera house, she was a legendary performer still revered by the company and only mentioned by the polite form of address “Signora.” Often described as “commanding” and “a force beyond nature,” Signora was a powerful personality at the opera house who often intimidated her fellow performers and crew. She died when Donatella was a child. She appears in Exit Prima Donna as a sort of memory/personification of Donatella’s intense feelings of fury or heartbreak, dressed as The Queen of the Night from Mozart’s The Magic Flute, which was a signature Signora role. Elizabeth Pomazal, who plays Marta Roma, also plays Signora in a unique double role. Here are Elizabeth’s thoughts on playing Signora.
“Signora is the center of the universe. At least, she thinks she is. She is extremely talented and has received many accolades due to her talents. She was very inconvenienced upon finding out she was expecting. She treats Donatella, her child, no differently than any other person…with a harsh tone and a firm hand. Her lack of tenderness ultimately causes her end. Although her talent is remembered, even revered, she is not missed. With Signora, her music tells you who she really believes she is with her rehearsal piece for her then six-year-old daughter–‘The Flower Duet’–which is clearly designed to feature her, not the child she’s instructing. Her solo only serves to humiliate and degrade her child while giving one final performance.”
The Chorus is played a trio of ladies who respond and react to the action onstage. A tight-knit triumvirate, these ladies have some of the funnier lines and scenes to break up the intense drama of the show. Portrayed by newcomers Tiffany Cheney, Beth Sparks-Jacques, and MMP veteran and Skeleton Key winner Devanne Fredette who makes this a record show #5 (The Last Garden Party, Bury Me in Paris, Ode to Agatha, The Silent City), the Chorus are fun, feisty, and full of energy for their amazing performances. Here’s each of their takes on the Chorus and they characters they play.
Devanne: “Developing my characters was definitely a challenge. All in all, it was like going back to the basics of acting. Both roles required a lot of research. For example, one of the characters is actually more feminine than I usually react to, so research started with how to walk. The origin of that was Italian art. Reading the script, there is an interesting, symbolic relation between art and this show. The first Italian I thought of were sculptures of the Roman gods and goddesses. I turned the character into a “goddess” named after Volupia, the goddess of pleasure. As a result, my other character is more of the opposite. She is an interwoven result of working together with the other chorus members. She became her own rather energetic person.”
Beth: “Reeza Cortelano considers herself to be competent. A competent chorus girl. A competent seamstress. A competent actress. Though no longer in the flush of her youth, she considers her beauty to be competent as well. She is sure and deliberate in her actions. She has been with the company for many years and has the ease of long acquaintance.”
Tiffany: “As a new stagehand, I have grown a close relationship with my fellow stagehands. I look up to Reeza, the eldest stagehand, as a mentor to help develop the right relationships in order to someday be in the opera and not just a stagehand. As a first-timer to theatre, I have enjoyed working with Daniel and the other crew members and learning how to develop my character.”
The Shadow is a silent, enigmatic figure cloaked in solid black with a flowing black cloak, black full-face mask, and a black hat. The Shadow’s role is as mysterious as his motives; He only communicates through body language and the occasional sparse written message. The true identity of the Shadow is the mystery the audience must solve. But we will not give away who the Shadow is nor who plays him. We wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise…
With only a few days until the premiere, our cast is working like crazy to ensure their characterizations are nuanced and vibrant. We have enjoyed breathing life and powerful voices into these characters, and our amazing actors and actresses have risen to the challenge. In just a handful of days, the doors of Amargosa Opera House (and the Teatro Venezia) will open and let the excited crowds in. History will be made. Will you be there?
Don’t forget your tickets. Call the Amargosa Hotel Front Desk and reserve seats at 1 (760) 852-4441.
–Master Mystery Productions