6 years ago

Volume 17 Issue 7 - April 2012

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THE ONE AND THE MANY continued from page 11about motivation, and deconstructs themusic’s architecture, that this deeperunderstanding helps the chorus cometo grips with the composer’s intentions,or as he says, converts the scoreinto “living music.” O’Halloran has herown little memory trick. “I tape justthe chorus numbers off a CD, and keepplaying it over and over.”COC chorister Karen Olinyk describeshow Horst tries to second-guesswhat the conductor’s wishes might be.“Sandra has us practise the music indifferent tempi,” she explains. “We trythings both slow and fast, and soft andloud. We have to be flexible to accommodatethe conductor.” In fact, so ingrained does the music becomein the skin, as it were, that choristers report that when they performthe same opera several years down the line, it is almost instant recall.States Watson: “I know what I’ll be singing on the next page, and Ihaven’t turned the page yet.” Oleskevich tells the astonishing story of anOtello performance where the curtain failed to open on the storm scene,although the conductor had begun the music. Even though the choruscould not see the conductor, they sang the words without missing a beat.In the course of my interviews, I learned a new word — sitzprobe.Explains Speers, who will be conducting OH’s upcoming Il Trovatore:“The word literally means ‘seated rehearsal.’ It is the first time thatthe soloists, chorus and orchestra come together. Everyone is sittingin a chair. The focus is on tempi and dynamics. The purpose is theintegration of all the musical forces.”Which brings us to the thorny question of the stage director. Thechorus masters and conductors attend every stage rehearsal. They arethere primarily to protect the music. As Olinyk says: “Sandra andthe conductor save us from the directors.” Negotiation is the key. Forexample, the staging has to allow the chorus to see the conductor at alltime. They have to get on and off the stage as the music permits. AddsSpeers: “The further away from the conductor, the more problems therewill be. Even with today’s technology that includes monitors and closedcircuit television, a director has to be careful in placing the chorus.”Directors, it seems, tend to put acting first, but in reality, musicalconcerns have the final override. Says Oleskevich: “I can rememberone director who created such complicated patterns for the male chorusin a Trovatore that the men kept bumping into each other with theirspears. The stage manager had to step in to redo it.” And then thereare the irritating so-called traffic cops who just tell the chorus to movehere and go there. What really upsets most choristers, however, are thedirectors who are clearly unprepared. “Bring a good book,” declaresWatson, “because it’s going to be a long wait while they figure outwhat they’re doing.”Opera in Concert Chorus (2010–2011).Choristers, in fact, are willing, eveneager, to partake of any stage business,within reason, that a director wants toput on stage. There are, however, strictrules concerning safety issues. With aseasoned chorus like the COC, smartdirectors allow the choristers to guidethem. Explains chorister John Kriter:“We’re good at what we do. We cansupply character. If they give us anoutline of who we are, we’ll figure outour own story. We also know who we’recomfortable with doing love scenes orfight scenes. We’ve developed theserelationships over the years, whichmakes it easier for directors to use usin the blocking.”Diamond is a veteran stage director. Over the years, he’s workedout a successful modus operandi when it comes to opera choruses.“The first time I meet the chorus,” he says, “I talk about the opera,and where they fit in. I give character and intention which gives themownership. I learn their names which builds a closer relationship withthem. I pay attention to everyone, and not just the principal singers.”Diamond describes a Manon Lescaut for Pacific Opera which he set inVichy France. “The town had been bombed by the Allies and everyonein the chorus had a job to do. Some were the clean-up crews. Otherswere patrons and workers at a café. I had each person figure out whattheir purpose was on stage, as well as their life story.”And a final question. What draws singers to audition for an operachorus? An absolute given is that they like to sing, dress up and beonstage. The choristers mention the enthralling music they get to perform,and the thrill of interacting with the glorious voices of operastars (who may be, as O’Halloran drolly says, either on their way upor their way down). There are also harrowing stories of quick changesin hallways, and misplaced objects on the prop table. For women, thegreatest problem seems to be trains on Edwardian ball gowns, particularlyfinding the wrist band that raises the train. Big hats are alsocumbersome. For men, there is the 40 pounds of weight they carrywhen a heavy leather soldier’s costume has to fit over a thick woolpeasant’s costume because they don’t have time to change betweenscenes. Women in nuns’ costumes have trouble hearing the music.Ditto for soldiers in helmets.Overall, however, being in a chorus is a marvellous adventure. “I’m aformer teacher,” says O’Halloran, “and when I’d go into the staff roomthe day after a chorus rehearsal, and look at my colleagues, I’d say tomyself, they don’t have a clue about the wonderful life I’m leading.”Paula Citron is a Toronto-based arts journalist. Her areas of specialinterest are dance, theatre, opera and arts commentary.PhotO Gilberto PriosteToronto Operetta Theatre Chorus in 2012 production of John Beckwith’s and James Reaney’s Taptoo ;Dorothy O’Halloran, Opera Hamilton Chorus, with Hugh Russell as the Barber in Barber of Seville(and in the chair Brian O’Halloran, supernumerary).PhotO GARY BeecheYPhotO Peter Oleskevich78 April 1 – May 7, 2012

The Grammy Award WinningMoscow Soloists Chamber OrchestraYuri Bashmet, Viola and ConductorFeaturingMischa Maisky, CelloThe legendary cellist makes his long-awaitedToronto return after 35 years!Three musical superstarsin one magnificent concert!THURSDAY, MAY 3, 8 PMROY THOMSON • 416-872-4255Presented by Show One

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