OVATIONS: Comments from Lisa Hasson, Chorus Master

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  • Can anyone sing in an opera chorus? Is singing in an opera chorus different from singing in other kinds of choruses?

I don’t think that singing in an opera chorus is for everyone, although certainly everyone can enjoy the result! It takes some classical training, vocal and breath control, and familiarity with foreign languages is always a plus. You have to be in shape, much like an athlete, and maintain vocal health, technique and stamina. You also have to be a good ensemble musician and a good actor. The days of the chorus just standing and singing, or as we often say “park and bark”, are a thing of the past, especially at Kentucky Opera. Choristers are singing actors and sophisticated story tellers, much like the main characters.

  • What advice do you have for students who currently sing in school chorus and who would like to continue to pursue singing in opera choruses?

I think the best thing to do is develop your musicianship and allow your voice to grow in a healthy way. Don’t push it! Voices take time to develop, especially voices that are best suited to classical music. Take some language and movement classes, sing in choruses and musicals. Basically be involved with music and what it means to be on stage and enjoy performing. Also, the resources that are available today are astounding. YouTube is a miracle. You can listen to so many great artists past and present with such ease.

  • There are several places in the MADAME BUTTERFLY chorus where rather than singing words, they hum or sing vowel sounds. Is this easier than singing words?

I think singing words is always easier. They give you something to hold on to and specifically communicate. Humming can start to feel tight and uncomfortable, especially for the upper voices. I often have them vocalize on an “NG” sound to keep the throat more open.

  • What about the dynamics in Madame Butterfly? Sometimes they sing really softly/quietly, how do you approach this?

Support and energy. I often tell singers that even though it’s very soft doesn’t mean everyone shouldn’t hear it. In fact softer dynamics often reflect more intense emotions, so there should always be a terrific amount of energy that supports that soft sound. I never ask singers to sing softer than what is comfortable. Very soft singing just for its own sake isn’t what the story is about.

  • Are there moments in the chorus that are inspired by “Eastern” musical colors?

There are certainly lots of Eastern and exotic colors in the orchestra, and Puccini quotes a number of Japanese folk songs. At the beginning of the second act, Suzuki is reciting a Japanese prayer. There are lots of whole tone and pentatonic scales, which pull our ear away from the sound of more Western music.