Dueling Tenors 

The Virginia Opera Takes up its sword.

Once the singers had swords in their hands, Lefkowich spent time rehearsing the fight movements until they became second nature. At first people can easily become frustrated, he says, especially when he gives them the same feedback — such as "relax your hands" — again and again. Then, about a week into their three-and-a-half weeks of training, there are "the a-ha moments," he says. At one point during rehearsal, he says, Laurel Cameron looked up in amazement to exclaim, "Oh my God, I can fight!"

The trick with fight choreography, says Lefkowich, who also stage-directed the entire production, is to keep it looking fresh, heart-filled and action-packed. And, of course, to keep it safe. Working with singers presents an additional challenge, because their primary focus must be on maintaining breath. As he set fight movements, Lefkowich asked the singers to "mark" their voices (not sing full out), and when problems arose — if singers panted during a roll to the floor, for example — he adjusted the movement accordingly to save their breath.

The result? A duel scene so thrilling, apparently, that when an audience of 1,100 watched the dress rehearsal, they let out an audible gasp at the fights and ensuing death scenes. "Nothing," says Lefkowich, "is more satisfying than feeling that the audience is 100 percent engaged." — Lea Marshall

The Virginia Opera's "Romeo & Juliet" runs at the Landmark Theater Nov. 25 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 27 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $20-$85, with $13 student rush tickets. Call (866) OPERA-VA.


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