Sue Roberts shares her experiences of contributing to St Paul’s Opera productions as a member of the chorus.
So, you thought that singing in the chorus must be easy?
Of course, it is – you're not going to be noticed, standing behind the principals… and they're doing all the singing.
Let me tell you, not a bit of it. To begin with you have to learn to sing all your music 'off copy' – not easy if you're used to singing with a choir and always having the score in front of you.
Then you have to know when to come in – it's always a good idea to watch the music director carefully as they usually give you a clue.
The most challenging is that you then need to coordinate this with moving on and off the stage, around the principals, re-positioning the staging and ACTING! Knowing what's happening in the scene and reacting accordingly – and all this when it's in a language with which you are unfamiliar.
To make all this work we have rehearsals. And this is the best bit, getting to know the principals, working with them, refining different moves, choosing our costumes, perfecting hair and make-up –which all adds up to creating one big team, a happy family. Everyone looks out for each other and helps one another to be the best we can be.
We get involved with preparing the staging, set painting, making props – and then there's also preparing the church on the night of the performance in readiness to welcome the audience.
During the performance there can be moments when things don't quite go according to plan, which adds to the element of excitement. For instance, on the second night of a performance when the setting had been slightly altered... but nobody thought to let me know. I was moving a bench off the stage in low light and suddenly found there was nowhere for me to go but down!
The show must go on however and I manoeuvred myself back into position for the start of the next scene, although I was rather sore. I also didn't anticipate what it would be like to receive audience appreciation for a funny moment. It turns out it's quite addictive.
I'd never had any singing training until a few years ago when I started to sing the psalm on Sundays. I was invited to join St Pauls Opera six years ago for Turandot, SPO's first performance to include a chorus (there was no chorus in the first year). It was the most exciting, nerve-wracking and intensely satisfying experience. I was persuaded to do it by SPO's founder, Tricia Ninian, who encouraged me by telling me it would be a lot of fun. She was not wrong. And six years on I can still say that.
Yes, it is a time commitment for the three, or so, months beforehand but the enjoyment, satisfaction and camaraderie are second to none.
Having always said I'd be the 'behind the scenes' support I've discovered that I secretly rather enjoy two days on stage each summer performing with St Paul's Opera.
Sue's performances ...
2015 Don Giovanni
2016 Die Zauberflöte
2017 Orpheus in the Underworld
2018 Cosi fan Tutti
2019 Le Nozze di Figaro