A Special Guest Post by Elaine Crane!

opera chorus

All, if you haven't met Elaine Crane of Greater Worcester Opera, then may I be the first to introduce you to the nicest person in the world:

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Elaine Crane has had a varied career as performer, actress, founder and
executive producer of a local 501 (c) 3 opera company, director, costumer,
multi-disciplinary educator, website manager, chief cook and bottle washer.
A proud alum of BoCo, she settled in Central Mass after graduating, and
(while raising and homeschooling 5 kids) decided to "bloom where she was
planted." She strives daily to create beauty on a budget while bringing
opera to her community, and feels she has the most talented friends in the
world. Find her on Facebook, Twitter (ElaineCrane16, GreatWorcOpera) and
the web (www.elainecrane.com, www.greaterworcesteropera.org).

Elaine has built a thriving company and performs all over and I seriously have no idea when she sleeps. As an expert on finding your way in this complicated business, she is unmatched. I invited Elaine to offer some thoughts to the BSR community, and here it is. Thanks, Elaine!



Are you a professionally trained singer who is working towards the goal of performing major roles?  Are you a voice student who would enjoy getting on the stage and using what you are learning in the studio?  Have you done musical theatre work and think opera might be a fun new venture?

There are many compelling reasons for singers to get on the stage and expand their musical skills with the additions of acting and performing.  Many times singers have received wonderful vocal training and feel that they are ready to get onstage and begin using all they’ve learned.  This may be true in some cases, but there are things to be learned about performing onstage that can only be attained through experience and/or observation.  It’s a classic Catch 22 situation—you need stage experience to gain stage skills, and you need stage skills to win the chance to gain experience.  How does one acquire the chance to get onstage and learn how to handle a major role, when one lacks the experience to win such a role?

One valuable and often overlooked (or perhaps simply disregarded) way is by performing in the chorus of a local operatic production.  There is often a perception that a singer, if well-trained vocally, is “too good” to be in a chorus.  However, vocal preparation (and indeed, simply the desire to perform) are not complete prerequisites for stage readiness.  When a singer gets onstage, even in the capacity of a chorus role, there is so much to be learned before a major leading role can be undertaken, and performing in the ensemble is a wonderful hands-on classroom for learning essential stage skills.

1. You gain valuable stage experience. All stage time is valuable, and the more time you spend honing your acting and performing talents, the better.  If you sit around waiting for your big role and pass over chances to be on the stage learning and preparing, you are wasting both time and opportunity.

2. You can list an opera on your resume.  An opera credit, even if it’s ensemble, is still of value on a resume.  Not only does it show performing experience, but in addition it shows a humbleness of character in that a singer is indeed not “too good” for the chorus, but willing to be a part of the bigger picture, as well as appreciative of learning opportunities.

3. You can learn a lot by watching, listening to, and interacting with great singing actors. The best acting school is the school of observation—watching great singing actors ply their craft is incredibly instructive.  Taking note of dramatic technique and how these skilled performers combine acting with operatic singing is wonderfully informative.  Alternately, watching a poor performance can, at times, be equally instructive in learning what not to do.

4. You can get to know an opera not just by hearing a recording or watching a DVD, but by performing in it. Nothing helps a singer learn an opera more than being a part of it.  It becomes more than just music—it becomes a full, dramatic piece of art, which of course was its original intention.  Just like Shakespeare was meant to be seen and not read, so then opera is meant to be seen and heard together simultaneously, and being a part of the action is even more compelling and instructive.  When you perform an aria from that opera in the future, you will really know and understand that aria in context, and give a deeper and more meaningful performance due to this knowledge.

5. You can let directors get to know you.  A performer’s character, work-ethic and personality are all a part of what causes a person to be invited back by a company.  Getting to know performers is invaluable to directors and other production members, and could pay great dividends in the future both within the company and also in other groups with which these directors work.  Conversely, if you are difficult, unprepared, tardy or generally bothersome to work with the directors will take note, so always be on your best workplace behavior whether in the chorus or in the starring role!

6. You can give the audience a chance to see you in action. Every character in a chorus is being watched by someone.  Every person on the stage is an actor, and engaged in the creative process.  Whether you have an aria or just the soprano line in the ensemble, you have a job to do, namely bringing a character to life for the benefit of the story and for the edification of the audience.  What you do onstage matters very much, no matter the size of the role.

7. You can support local opera by being a part of it. Your presence affirms your personal support as an artist for the company, your colleagues, and the many artists who make productions come to life.  In addition, your participation in the opera means your friends and family will come to the production and lend valuable support, both financial and artistic.

8. You can support the art of opera by exposing your family and friends (who might not ever go to an opera if you weren’t in it) to this beautiful art form. Would Uncle Bill or your roommate from college go to the opera if you weren’t in it?  How about your kids?  So many people have been exposed to opera by being invited by a performer, and this is so valuable for the art form as well as for the enrichment of our local communities.  With so much arts education being cut from schools and other government-funded groups, you may be the only link your friends and family have to discovering opera!

9. You can enrich your own artistic life by having new musical experiences.  All musical experiences, for better or for worse, have an impact on our lives and creative work.  We can learn so much by taking part in productions, but we can also learn in many cases what not to do as well, which is an equally valid learning tool.  All learning can be positive and enriching in some way, and performing onstage is a real-life classroom.

10. You can be onstage without the pressure of being in the spotlight and having lots of solo lines to memorize.  Ensemble work can be surprisingly enjoyable and relaxing, when the pressure of solo performance is removed.  A performer can freely enjoy the experimental creativity and exhilaration of performing without worrying about cracking a high note or stressing to make each sound and utterance flawlessly perfect.  Of course we should always do our best, but if we are not singing solo then we are not under the same intense scrutiny.

11. You never know who’s in the audience watching, and who may be calling you because of your riveting performance as a village maiden/lad. Again- someone is always watching!  Sitting in the audience may be a director, a reviewer, or someone representing an awards committee—you just never know.  Even if it’s your Aunt Tillie (who maybe decides to donate her best gowns to your cause) or a child who watches you and gets bitten by the opera “bug”, we are rarely aware of the impact we’ve had on audience members.

12. The best reason to be in an opera chorus is… it’s fun to sing and perform!!
  Even if all the aforementioned benefits weren’t enough, the best reason to perform is because performing is a rewarding, enjoyable experience and allows us to use and hone our talents to greater depths.  Let’s face it—it’s fun to dress up, go out onstage as someone else, sing with all the technique we’re worked so hard to develop, interact with other characters, and bring delight to an audience!

As singers, the voice lessons, gas money, time & tears it takes to cultivate our abilities is costly, but performing—that’s the part that is “priceless”.  Are any of us “too good” for that?  Let’s consider that question carefully.

As a side note, in both my performing life and in my capacity as executive director of a small, non-profit local opera company, the principles above have proven themselves time and again.  As a soprano in the super-saturated market of Eastern Massachusetts (home of so many wonderful music schools) I spent 10 years in opera choruses before being offered my first role, and the lessons I learned during that time were absolutely invaluable. In my capacity as E.D. of Greater Worcester Opera, I once invited a singer to audition for the company after seeing her give a wonderful performance in an opera chorus (no solo singing), and the audition led to a role. During another of our company’s productions I got to know a baritone who did both ensemble and cover work for the group and later, after being impressed not only with his stage work but also his character as a colleague, offered him a leading role.  There are countless other stories across our artistic community of these principles being meted out.

Singers who are willing to sing in opera choruses are known to be team players, and this is an important step in the process of building a career.  A singer is not selling out, or consigning themselves to an eternal chorus position, if they undertake this type of role.  With so many good reasons to sing in an opera chorus, perhaps a singer who is not currently winning major roles might find their own compelling reason to enjoy the instructive, enriching, and enjoyable experience of performing in an opera chorus.

Singers who are willing to sing in opera choruses are known to be team players, and this is an important step in the process of building a career.  A singer is not selling out, or consigning themselves to an eternal chorus position, if they undertake this type of role.  With so many good reasons to sing in an opera chorus, perhaps a singer who is not currently winning major roles might find their own compelling reason to enjoy the instructive, enriching, and enjoyable experience of performing in an opera chorus.