[image-51][image-94][image-110]Software engineer Carlos A. Gomez-Rosa cannot sing, dance, play an instrument or even act, but he has shared the spotlight with maestro Placido Domingo in numerous operas staged by The Washington National Opera at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. He is a supernumerary, which is a non-speaking, non-singing part on stage.
“There is an abstract beauty in putting a spacecraft together, in putting a mission together to explore outer space and distant planets. Opera is stunning: the music, the orchestra and the sounds hitting your soul. If you think about it, Galileo probably went to the opera,” said Gomez-Rosa.
He began his stage career working as an usher for The Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater in the early 1990s. His costume was a white shirt, a red jacket and a black bow tie consistent with the Kennedy Center’s color scheme of red and gold. He received a small fee and was allowed to sit in the back and attend the performances.
One night around 1997, he was called to be a substitute usher at The Opera House performance of “Il Pagliacci,” directed by Franco Zeffirelli who, two years later, directed Dame Judi Dench, Dame Maggie Smith and Cher in the movie “Tea with Mussolini.” As Gomez-Rosa was enjoying the magnificent production, he recognized a few of the faces scattered about the stage during the village scenes. The familiar faces were none other than some of his fellow ushers. Intrigued, he discovered that some of the ushers were supernumeraries.
He auditioned at the next casting call. He figured out that the main qualifications for being a supernumerary are looking the part and being able to follow directions. The casting director gushed that he had “a beautiful profile for opera.” And a supernumerary was born.
The European and Metropolitan Opera’s long tradition of grand opera involves gorgeous costumes, elaborate stages, a full orchestra, an enormous cast and the best voices in the world. No expense was spared. An elephant was routinely brought onstage for Giuseppe Verdi’s “Aida,” set in ancient Egypt. In today’s economy, however, one set of costumes and staging travels the country to different opera houses and companies. Everyone had best fit into their costumes because they cannot be altered dramatically, but the costume directors are excellent at instantly selecting the right costume to fit each person.
“The fun part of the dress rehearsal is that is the first time that you get to wear the costume and see everyone else in theirs,” said Gomez-Rosa. “It’s so magical as, instantaneously, the costumes transform regular people into operatic characters.”
Gomez-Rosa’s first appeared as both a village priest and a bartender in Amadeo Vive’s “Dona Francisquita,” a traditional Spanish opera form called zarzuela. Placido Domingo, the general director of the Washington National Opera at the time, was known for bringing in interesting operas not necessarily well known to the Washington audience.
Operas generally play for ten performances over two weeks. For his efforts, Gomez-Rosa received parking and dinner, less than he had received as an usher – but he was on stage.
Through the years, he has appeared in numerous operas, the most memorable of which was Umberto Giordano’s “Fedora.” In true operatic style, the staging was very elegant and rich. In the obligatory party scene, multiple rotating platforms twirled guests dressed in tuxedos and evening gowns and sipping champagne.
“I was the butler serving the champagne on a tray. The glasses were real crystal and they were not taped to the tray. In one rehearsal, my tray, fully loaded with glasses filled with champagne, came tumbling down, but in the productions I was perfect. It so happened that Placido Domingo appeared in this party scene as well. Whenever he was in any scene, everyone froze. The house went almost entirely dark except for one big spotlight on him. That was the moment the audience waited for every performance. By bad luck, I was always behind him holding up this tray of filled champagne glasses. Do you know the pressure I felt not to dampen his scene?” said Gomez-Rosa.
The morning news the following day included a clip of the performance, which happened to feature Domingo’s aria. Gomez-Rosa could see himself trembling.
Gomez-Rosa met Placido Domingo many times and found him to be extremely humble and kind. The Washington National Opera always gave a cast party at the end of every season, which Placido Domingo made a point to attend. At the Gala for the 21st Century cast party, Domingo presented each cast member with a Tiffany paperweight engraved with his signature.
Once at a cast party, when Gomez-Rosa was discussing one of his prior roles with Domingo among others. Domingo spontaneously burst into song. So, technically speaking, Placido Domingo personally sang a song to him.
“I shot for the moon and I got it. Growing up, I always wanted to work at NASA and now I do. I also always wanted to be on stage and now I am. Whatever you want to do, just do it. There is never the perfect moment in life. Stop being afraid, stop planning and just go do it,” said Gomez-Rosa.