Director Michael Scarola wanted to make it perfectly clear: No, he was not requiring Andrew Funk to shave his head.
He could just as easily don a bald cap for his role as Osmin in Arizona Opera's production this weekend of Mozart's "The Abduction From the Seraglio."
"I had them fit it on; they're hot, they're sweaty. There's glue that gets all over the place, in your hair, it gets everywhere," recalled Funk, a bass who frequently appears with Lyric Opera of Chicago. "I was like, 'You know what? I'm going to shave it off. It'll grow back anyway.'"
So he recruited cast mate Tracy Wise, who had a little experience with shears. The New York tenor, a graduate of Arizona State University, shaved his own head shiny bald when he sang the role of Monostatos in Mozart's "The Magic Flute" and again for the role of Spoletta in Puccini's "Tosca."
"The first time, the director wanted to put me in a bald cap," Wise said. But he's a physical actor, and "the more stuff I have on, the more hindered I am."
With the cast watching during the first full run-through rehearsal in Mesa a couple of weeks ago, Wise pulled out the sheers. Moments later, Funk was shiny on top, looking even more menacing as the character of the jailer Osmin.
"It is more of a tough look - bald head and goatee," the 42-year-old father of one joked. "I don't think people will mess with me in a dark alley."
Funk and Wise are both making their Arizona Opera debuts in the "Abduction," which also is making its long overdue company debut.
In fact, much about this production falls under the heading of first time, from the role debuts of many of the cast members, including Wise and Funk, to the production debut of conductor Joel Revzen.
Part of that is because Mozart wrote the piece to match the virtuosic talents of his original singers in the roles of the heroine Konstanze and her fiancé, Belmonte.
"Certainly the Konstanze and Belmonte are two of the hardest roles . . . in Mozart to sing," said Revzen. "They are very high. There's a lot of coloratura and a lot of flexibility."
Which could explain why Arizona Opera has never mounted the piece, which Mozart composed in 1781 when he was 25 years old.
"Abduction" is a three-act singspiel - a German song-play that intersperses spoken word with singing. But, Mozart being Mozart, with his penchant for always taking things one step further, advanced the art form with extended arias, repeats and developments.
"Compositionally, this is much more than the little German singspiel that existed at the time," Revzen said. "This was very groundbreaking for the time."
"Abduction" follows the attempts of Belmonte to rescue his betrothed Konstanze and her maid Blondchen from the seraglio of Pasha Selim, who has taken the two to be part of his Turkish harem. The piece infuses plenty of Mozartean humor in the dialogue, which will be spoken in English; singing will be in German.
"This was Mozart's first hit. . . 'Abduction' was a huge success," said Funk, who understudied the role of Osmin for his hometown Lyric Opera of Chicago. "It's very populist. It was clear that he was playing to the seats not only for posterity's sake but to entertain."
Revzen said the piece was a precursor to "The Magic Flute," Mozart's final opera, written in 1791, the year that he died. Many of the characters from "Abduction" spring up as counterpart characters in "Magic Flute."
"Every character has their counterpart in 'Magic Flute'; the only thing you don't have is a Queen of the Night," said Revzen.
Wise, who is trained in commedia dell'arte, said he incorporates his physical comedy into the role of Belmonte's servant and co-rescuer Pedrillo.
"It's a perfect role for me," said Wise, 36, who is critically acclaimed for his comic timing and versatility. "It's something I've wanted to do for a long, long time. It's really fun for me."
As for Funk's hirsute sacrifice, Revzen said the idea of a performer shaving his head for a role is not new and is done often for all the reasons Funk and Wise cite.
"But the best part was they cleaned up after themselves," he added.
If you go
Mozart's "The Abduction From the Seraglio"
• Presented by: Arizona Opera.
• Conducted by: Joel Revzen.
• Directed by: Michael Scarola.
• When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
• Where: Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave.
• Tickets: $20.50 to $107.50 through www.ticketmaster.com
• Language: Spoken dialogue in English, sung in German.
• Running time: Two hours and 45 minutes.
• Synopsis: Pasha Selim plots to kidnap two beautiful and strong-willed women for his harem. Unbeknownst to him, the women's sweethearts are counterplotting to get them back. This funny, fanciful opera is equal parts spoken word and song and possessed with the youthful innocent spirit of early Mozart works.
• Et cetera: This is the first time Arizona Opera has ever staged "Abduction" and possibly the first time it has ever been professionally mounted in the state.
Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4642.