The four tenors they are not.
Hercules Della Rocca, Steve Dickman, Harvey Hoglund and Alex Koutelias didn’t join Sarasota Opera to land principal roles. They joined to stand on stage and keep their mouths shut —and to occasionally carry a lit torch.
Hoglund can barely whistle, much less sing. Della Rocca won’t even hum his favorite aria in the shower. Dickman, though he’s a member of a local chorus, calls himself a “D-list singer at best.”
Even Koutelias, a brainy 13-year-old who joined the Sarasota Youth Opera in the third grade, has no intentions of pursuing a career as a singer.
“I’m more into science,” says Koutelias, who recently went from a soprano to a bass thanks to puberty. “I want to be an astrophysicist or a foreign-policy maker.”
They’re called supernumeraries, or “supers” for short. They’re the stoic performers with non-singing parts who show up on stage during an opera performance.
Like any cast member, they report for rehearsals, costume fittings and hair and makeup appointments.
What they lack in voice, they make up in character.
If you’ve seen “La bohème” this season, you’ve watched Hoglund march across the stage at the end of Act II dressed as a trench digger.
You’ve seen Della Rocca as both a police officer and an intoxicated customs guard.
And you’ve seen Dickman in perhaps the biggest role for any super in a Puccini opera: a waiter who enjoys more than 20 minutes of stage time during the show’s second act.
“The tips are zero,” jokes Dickman, 67.
And the pay is zero. Supers, like ushers, are volunteers. This year, 10 local opera buffs were cast as supers, all of them men.
Because most supers play knights, monks, soldiers, guards and pages, parts for women are rare.
When Dickman’s wife, Sharon, asked to be a super, she was told there were no female roles in the repertoire this year.
“For four years I’ve tried to get her involved,” says Dickman, a retired salesman for a computer distribution company. “This year she’s interested and we don’t need women. Go figure.”
It’s a Tuesday evening, and the foursome is settled into plush chairs in the Opera House’s McCorkle Lounge.
Dickman is dressed in a blue usher’s blazer.
Now in his fifth seasons as a super, the native New Yorker also volunteers as an usher at the Opera House, The Players Theatre, the Asolo Repertory Theatre, Circus Sarasota and the Sarasota Orchestra. In 2008, he was named Sarasota Opera’s volunteer of the year.
“I literally live here,” Dickman says, flashing a printout of his rehearsal schedule. “It’s time-consuming, but it’s the most rewarding job in the world.”
Koutelias, the youngest super on the opera roster, seconds the sentiment. An eighth-grader at Brookside Middle School, the teen will notch his fourth production as a torchbearer in “I Lombardi.”
“Maestro DeRenzi is showing me a real trust of power this year,” Koutelias says. “He’s letting me carry an actual lit torch.”
The other torchbearer in “I Lombardi” is Hoglund, a 66-year-old senior planner with the city of Sarasota.
Up until this year, Hoglund, a first-time super, couldn’t even picture himself on stage in an opera production.
“There’s kind of irony to it,” Hoglund says. “My father tried to drill good music into me as a kid, and all I could listen to was Jerry Lee Lewis.”
Hoglund didn’t pay much attention to opera until he went on a long road trip with a friend who sang nothing but Puccini from Florida to Texas.
His curiosities intensified when four years ago he served as the city staff liaison to the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation during the Opera House renovations.
Says Hogland: “To be in the thick of it was irresistible.”
Della Rocca, Sarasota Opera’s longest-serving super, nods his head in agreement.
The 79-year-old Coney Island, N.Y., native worked as the director of a New York State motor vehicles office before retiring to Sarasota 20 years ago. Since then, he’s appeared in 33 productions, playing everything from a resurrected notary to an officiating priest.
A diehard opera fan, Della Rocca admits he still has a hard time not getting emotional on stage.
In the 1996 production of Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi,” Della Rocca — cast as the fallen body of Buoso Donati — almost cheered at the end of his favorite number.
“The prima donna sang it so beautifully,” Della Rocca says. “I had all I could do to not rise from the dead and applaud with the rest of the crowd.”
IF YOU GO
Puccini’s “La bohème” runs through March 19, at the Sarasota Opera House. Verdi’s “I Lombardi” opens Feb. 26 and runs through March 20, followed by Robert Ward’s adaptation of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” March 5 through March 19. For more information, call 366-8450 or visit www.sarasotaopera.org.
Contact Heidi Kurpiela at [email protected]