Opera in Focus: Chelsea Opera
National Opera Week is here! Let’s indulge in more and more opera! So grap a cup of tea and settle in to learn more about several thriving American opera companies. Today featuring a little Q & A with Chelsea Opera!
How is Chelsea Opera celebrating National Opera Week? Are you offering any special events or activities in honor of the occasion?
Last year, we invited special friends to attend an open rehearsal. However, because restrictions at our rehearsal venue, it is not possible this year. We hope Operagasm fans will come see a performance of The Medium which runs Nov 10-12. More info at www.ChelseaOpera.org.
What advice can you impart to young aspiring artists today?
The irony of this business is that there are many fine singers. However, to succeed, one needs to be better than average, which means working on perfecting your technique, being up on roles appropriate to your voice, knowing your languages, presenting a complete package, being persistent, singing in an opera chorus (where you can learn a lot and make connections), and finding or creating your own opportunities to perform. Chelsea Opera also looks favorably on those willing to volunteer to help with other aspects of production.
Can you comment on what now seems like a standard practice of charging fees to singers for auditions for main stage and/or young artist programs? Does your company charge a fee? If so, what does that fee go to?
Chelsea Opera was founded by singers so we know what singers go through and how expensive this career can be. Consequently, from the very beginning, it has been Chelsea Opera’s policy NOT to charge singers to audition. Further, singers for all mainstage principal and comprimari roles are paid per performance, albeit a small honorarium. In addition, mainstage productions are of the highest quality and always with chamber orchestra, led by one of the country’s most talented maestros, Carmine Aufiero.
Speaking of auditions and castings, if you HAD to cast a pop singer in any role for the upcoming season, what MTV starlet would be included in your upcoming season?
Sorry, MTV is not part of our experience. But from what little we’ve seen, Lady Gaga is a talented singer, one of the few who actually sings on pitch.
What are some of the qualities that singers for Chelsea Opera share?
We expect Chelsea Opera singers to be good colleagues. When someone with “attitude” comes into an audition, we feel that right away and they are less likely to be considered. Of course, we seek the most beautiful and appropriate voices for each role. However, we ask a lot more of our singers because we perform in a very intimate space. Whether the opera is in a foreign language or not, it is imperative that the singers embody their characters, not break focus (even to look at the Maestro), and tell the story. We want our audience to leave having been taken on the same journey as the opera’s characters.
What do you think is the biggest threat to opera as we know it today? What is Chelsea Opera doing to ensure the survival of the art form?
It is a constant struggle to remain afloat. Even with the relatively small budget we maintain (because of an all-volunteer administration), it is a challenge to raise the funds necessary, whether from private foundation, individuals or ticket sales. We keep ticket prices low so more people can attend, and always offer complimentary tickets to seniors and members of the USO.
However, we see the decline of arts education in the public schools as the biggest threat to opera and the arts in general. If we are not educating and exposing our children to various living arts, they will remain attached to their hand-held techno toys, and we can all call it a day!
To combat that threat, we try as often as possible to work with school children who have never seen a live music performance of any kind. Thanks to a wonderful relationship with Good Shepherd Services, a social services agency, we have worked with middle school children to introduce them to opera in after school programs followed by their attendance at performances.
For one such program, each student met our set designer, then painted an apartment building on a large sheets of cardboard which were then incorporated into our “cityscape” set for an updated version of Amahl. This year, a group will meet Matthew Harris, the composer of the cantata Chelsea Opera will perform (A Child’s Christmas in Wales) to learn what a composer is and does, and what it “takes” to become a composer. The students will have the chance to have their own stories set to music, and will also attend the performance on December 16th.
Speaking of survival, some divas just can’t perform without 148 white calla lilies adorning their dressing room. What has been the weirdest or most extravagant green room request?
Sorry, we haven’t had any weird requests! Maybe that’s because at St. Peter’s, we have two dressing rooms (women’s and men’s) and no green room.
What interview would be complete without a joke? Please share your favorite opera joke with our readers!
Well, not that we don’t like to laugh because we do have a good time producing our operas, but our heads are too full of “to dos” with an opening for The Medium on Nov 10!
Wish you had asked what singers seeking work with Chelsea Opera can do to make the our job easier. Here are the answers anyway:
- When sending materials, make sure they are “saved as” with your name and not, for example: “blue dress/cropped.new.jpg”. (And there have been worse.)
- Have your name on the picture.
- Include a small photo on your resume.
- In the subject line of the email, include the role that is of interest.
- Do your research on the company’s website, especially regarding your availability during the rehearsal period. There is nothing more frustrating for everyone to hear a good singer, only to find out they will be out of town during the first week of rehearsals, or have a performance conflict during our performance dates, etc.
- If you have any experience with the company, let us know: examples: you saw a performance, you have a friend who has sung with the company and said good things, etc.
- Come to the audition prepared. In our company’s case, it means knowing the requested musical excerpts from the opera for which singers are being heard. It’s almost like an instant call-back so it is critical that singers pay attention to these requirements. As important as it is to sing well, it is equally important that singers give us some idea that they understand the “character” which means they need to have done their homework.