On the opera stage you’ll see them: filing through street scenes or dancing in party scenes, creating crowds where crowds are needed.
The local men and women who fill Pacific Opera Victoria’s choral roles are used to being in the background. Their songs move the action forward and help explain what’s going on. It’s rare for them to be as central in the action as they are in the company’s upcoming production The Flying Dutchman.
“They’re alone on stage, without any of the leads, for 15 minutes in the third act,” explained chorus manager Joey Pietraroia. “We needed one of the largest choruses in POV history for the show.”
The story is set on the coast of Norway, much of it aboard two ships – one belonging to the Dutchman and the other to a Norwegian whose daughter the Dutchman hopes to marry.
The men’s chorus is cast as sailors on the Norwegian ship, and recruits from the Victoria Choral Society are the Dutchman’s crew, who audience members only see in the third act when they’re singing back and forth with the other sailors.
“It’s a lot of people to fit on stage,” said Pietraroia. The Dutch crew will actually be elevated above the stage on a riser, he added, which will allow them to stand together and sing the way they’re accustomed to with the Choral Society.
“Not everyone has stage experience, so it’s a way they can feel a little more comfortable up there.”
Even still, it’s a challenging gig. The opera, written by Richard Wagner in 1843, is sung in German, not the easiest language to make sound good. And there isn’t much repetition in the verses.
“It’s a lot to memorize,” Pietraroia said.
“They need to learn the words and what they mean so they can put the right emotion into the songs.”
Choristers get their parts a month before rehearsals, to start practising on their own. Then they have two weeks of rehearsals with Pietraroia and the rest of the chorus to get the words down. After that there’s staging, dress rehearsals, and finally, a week and a half of performances.
“It’s a huge commitment,” Pietraroia said. “A lot of them work other jobs, so we’re meeting late in the evening on a very intensive schedule. We need them four or five nights per week.”
And when one show is over, many will start preparing for the next.
This year’s Pacific Opera season also includes the world premiere of Mary’s Wedding, an English opera set in the Canadian prairies during the First World War; the sexy French opera Carmen, about a woman who tempts her lovers into her life of crime; and the Italian classic Maria Stuarda, about the queen who tried to claim the English throne from Queen Elizabeth I.
The Flying Dutchman opens at the Royal Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 6 at 8 p.m., with subsequent performances on Oct. 8, 12 and 14 (all 8 p.m.) and Oct. 16 at 2:30 p.m.
Tickets range from $37.50 to $132. They’re available at the Royal or McPherson box offices, by calling 250-386-6121 or going online to www.rmts.bc.ca.