A Day in the Life of Work: Prima Donna

Jane Klaviter

Prompter and assistant conductor
Metropolitan Opera
New York, New York

As a prompter, I think of myself as an extension of the conductor’s arm. I sit in a box at the lip of the stage, and during performances, I cue the first few words of each line. I don’t sing; I speak the words. If they get a little off, I get them back on track.

So many things can go wrong: Costumes can impede. So can the distance from singer to conductor. Performers can make a false entrance, sing the wrong words, or even forget the words altogether. You must have your wits about you and be able to think fast, like being an air-traffic controller. You need to have nerves of steel, know foreign languages, and be able to deal with performers who might have large egos. And they are very sensitive. Singing opera is so difficult you must have compassion for them.

There are four full-time and two part-time prompters at the Met. This season, I had six productions to prompt, with one to three performances a week. So I don’t see that many operas on my own — simply because my ears need a break. Often, I just need silence to stay sharp for an upcoming performance.

I’ve done so many operas that it’s hard to say which is my favorite. Every time I do Rigoletto, I think, My God, what a masterpiece! You’re in a beautiful auditorium, and you hear the most incredible opera orchestra in the world — along with these fabulous voices. Believe me, everyone’s soul needs an injection of it.JV