Virginia Opera’s bubbly production of Die Fledermaus opens in Norfolk next week! Here to fill us in on all the behind-the-scenes singing and dancing is our very own Resident Conductor and Chorus Master Adam Turner.
Most of our audiences likely come to the opera for the thrilling voices of our principal artists, the riveting drama on the stage, or perhaps even the lush harmonies emanating from the orchestra pit, but have you ever considered that other essential element on the stage –the chorus! Frequently their classic role is scenic - to blend in, look natural, support the stage, to not steal focus from the principal artists - and yet they’re completely indispensable in the majority of operatic repertoire. Think about it. Choruses in opera almost always magically appear at pivotal moments in the story, generally when a composer needs to heighten the drama with all hands on deck. Think of some of your favorite moments in opera choruses – the Triumphal March from Aida, the Anvil Chorus from Il Trovatore, or the Toreador Chorus from Carmen. All of these musical moments are incredibly effective at moving the drama forward, in no small part due to the energy and contribution of the chorus. But you might not realize the amount of time and energy spent preparing the chorus!
Every production at Virginia Opera has its own set of requirements, but when the chorus is involved, careful steps are taken to ensure a fantastic show. A number of questions have to be raised:
Once we’ve determined the needs of each specific production, the traditional rehearsal process begins. We generally meet two weeks before staging rehearsals begin to learn the music, which sometimes means we’re rehearsing a new opera while still performing another on stage. In these initial music rehearsals, focus is primarily spent on learning the text (including learning how to pronounce unfamiliar vowels and consonants in foreign languages), learning the notes, arriving at a unified concept of our choral sound, getting all of that physicalized, and then most importantly memorized! Once these first weeks of music rehearsals have concluded, choristers meet with our guest maestro to arrive at a definitive interpretation of their music–adjusting to new tempi, fine-tuning the diction, and adding nuance and style with expressive colors and shapes. Then they’re turned over to the stage director for 2-3 weeks to begin learning the staging, dance, etc. In what feels like a blur, final rehearsals on the stage take place, choristers sing with the orchestra for the first time, technical kinks get worked out, an audience arrives, and we have a show! It’s an extraordinary process reaping tremendous rewards.
The Virginia Opera choristers are extremely talented and unified. They come from all different walks of life, have varying day jobs and are all different ages. Despite all of this, they band together as one on stage and I feel very fortunate to work with them. Tazewell Thompson (stage director for The Pearl Fishers) recently said this about our Virginia Opera chorus: “I’ve worked all over the country and in Europe, and I keep telling them over and over that they’re really outstanding. I don’t know how long most of them have been with the chorus, but they all have, for the most part, full-time jobs, so they come to this after they’ve been working all day and they’re so skillful and eager and able. Their sound is absolutely glorious.”