“Se avete due pani, vendetene uno e comprate un fiore, perché anche l’anima ha fame.”
If one has two loaves of bread, sell one and buy a flower, for the soul also has hunger.
This Italian proverb spoken by Cindy Felice’s mother throughout her life signifies her journey from childhood arts appreciation to becoming the Props Master for the Portland Opera.
“My grandparents all came from little Italian villages,” states Cindy, “and they all made things- shoes, wine, clothing, Italian lace, good food! And they all sang. As a matter of fact, my father sings, (albeit unprofessionally) and his weekly venue, the local grocery store, is where his performances would take place while he was doing his shopping. He happens to be a dead ringer for Pavarotti, only 1 ½’ shorter, so those in attendance gave him the nickname, mini-Pavarotti! They all looked forward to his weekly visits. My family has been long-time subscribers to the orchestra and the opera. There was always an emphasis on these things.”
Cindy started her career at Florida Grand Opera, moving on to Philadelphia to work for the Walnut Street Theater, and then a few years later the beautiful, Opera Philadelphia. “I was very happy to be back in the most Italian of art forms and working in a beautiful reproduction of La Scala, where my mother used to come as a teenager and sit in the nosebleed seats for half price.”
Cindy made her way to Portland when a colleague became the Production Stage Manager at the Portland Opera and informed her of the opening in props.
There are no typical days in the life of a Props Master. “This is a collaborative art form,” Cindy conveys, “so how well it works for everyone else is very important. From how it works for the singers (allowing them to do what they need to do) to realizing the director’s vision.
Something people often
don’t realize is how specific everything needs to be- it’s not just a chair, but a chair that looks like this and does exactly that; it’s not just a phone, it’s this kind of particular phone; it’s not just a rock, it’s a rock of this exact size and shape that women in 1890s heels & costume can manage to climb up on and walk around without having their heels go through, and matches the set!”
When the work is done and the show opens, then and only then, does Cindy get a chance to relax, and reflect, “Although opera singers can have a reputation for being divas, most of them are not. I find that most of them are less picky and demanding than actors. Shocking, huh?” She muses.
In looking back, Cindy reminisces about her most memorable show- a pop art version of Cenerentola (Cinderella) she did with an Italian director, Davide Livermore. Set in the 1950s in the style of Lichtenstein it used projections, video, and bold graphic painting & colors on the set, and props, which were designed by Santi Centino.
Cindy recalls, “To translate the story to a modern era, the stepsisters and mother lived in a swanky European condominium. Cinderella was in a maid’s costume, rather than rags, and part of the set was a kitchen and a washing machine. Fun things happened on this stunning set, like when the washing machine opened and bubbles flew out. And in the end, Cinderella’s pumpkin turned out to be an orange and black, vintage motorcycle with a sidecar!”
It was also during this show, that Cindy designed her all-time favorite prop, a “magic” vacuum cleaner. It followed Cinderella around on stage like a little dog, keeping her company and doing all her chores without her ever touching it. Cindy accomplished this feat by purchasing a vintage vacuum and then modifying it to sit on top of a remote control car.
“A stage manager spent most of the production maneuvering the car on cue to the music. The vacuum was treated as a character, interacting with the people onstage. It was in almost every scene, and at one point, Cinderella even reaches down and gives it a little scratch on the “nose.” It’s the only prop I’ve ever built that got to take a bow at the curtain call to a big laugh and a big round of applause!”
Cindy is currently working on recreating the props for the Maurice Sendak set for The Magic Flute for the 2016 opera season. “Sadly, the originals were destroyed during a hurricane.”
In looking ahead, Cindy asserts, “I’m excited about future opportunities that take advantage of the diversity of my skill set and allow for my continued growth and learning. I’m always up for a good challenge, especially if it’s unusual and dramatic!”
Food for the soul.
For more on Cindy’s work, visit her website at: cindyfelice.net.