By Rosalie Sullivan, Mezzo-Soprano
December 20, 2014
Die Meistersinger calls upon everyone involved to bring the full range of their artistic, dramatic, and physical resources to bear. Depending on the scene, the regular full-time chorus of 80 members alternately pares down to a group of 20 Lehrbuben (sopranos, altos, and tenors playing the role of boy apprentices) or swells to almost double its normal size, with an additional 70 extra choristers joining onstage for the final scene in Act III. The large broadly lyrical chorales that open and close the opera require a kind of vocalism that is quite different from both the light-hearted, conversational character of the Lehrbuben's music and the rapid-fire intensity of the Act II fight scene, where Lehrbuben and Meisters, Gesellen and Nachbarinnen duel it out both physically and vocally, in a mass of bodies and independent musical lines. Below, veteran and newer choristers alike discuss the opportunities and challenges of performing a work of this magnitude.
TECHNIQUE AND PACING
"More than other Wagner operas, the chorus music in Meistersinger requires you to employ the full spectrum of your vocal tricks," says tenor Kurt Phinney, who also serves as the Chorus Manager and has been a member of the ensemble for 21 years. "Unlike the more traditional, almost oratorio-like choral music of Lohengrin, there's an ebullient, youthful, perky timbre for the Lehrbuben that is very word driven, and then there are also very character driven parts like the goat trills in the guild scene in the third act. My biggest vocal challenge in Meistersinger is flipping into falsetto to depict the changing voice of an adolescent. It requires a different ratio of breath to tone which for me is a bit more difficult to control. Fortunately, it is called upon to imply a lack of control typical of a youth whose voice is changing." In general, as a tenor in the chorus, Kurt continues, "You tend to be localized in the upper part of your range. Unlike singing a tenor aria which might invest itself in the entire range of the voice, you end up singing in the stratosphere of your range for prolonged periods, and this speaks to the need for us to pace ourselves as choristers."