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My heart is pounding. I’m walking onto the stage with my chair in hand. I’m excited. I’m pumped. I’m ready for anything. I’ve played this moment over and over in my head a million times: This is my first time on stage as a professional opera chorus member. I set my chair down onto my mark. I sit down. I begin the choreographed hand motions for the scene. I look around at my cast mates and realize… Oh no! I’ve started at the wrong time! I am performing a “solo” that wasn’t meant to be there!
…And that was my first time on stage as a professional opera singer.
Luckily, I realized it early on enough and just filled in a beat with the choreography to let my motions fall back with the rest of the group. I made it through the scene and later confessed/apologized/cried/all of the above during intermission to the choreographer about how I had made a fool of myself and “ruined” the opening performance. Being the wonderful person she is, instead of berating me, she talked to me about how many times she had made mistakes during her performance career and that these things just happen. That’s the beauty and the curse of live theater. Exactly.
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to perform a show live… it’s simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. You have to be in the moment, every moment. It’s draining. It’s thrilling. It’s unlike anything else. And when the show’s over, you’ll miss it, and start the process all over again in order to recreate the thrill of entertaining audiences performing an art that can only be described as magical.
This is how my experience was with my first performance in Der Fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman), by Richard Wagner in Spring 2016. I had spent a good 10 months working on my classical voice by the time I auditioned for the opera after taking some years off after college, and lo and behold, I miraculously made it into the show as part of the opera chorus. Imagine my excitement when I got the offer. Here I was, not expecting anything, and then being offered a part in a real, professional opera!
Then the terror hits me. “What if I’m not good enough?” I get the rehearsal schedule. “I don’t know if I can do this.” I get fitted for my costume. “What if I gain weight?” (See my previous post.) “What if my voice gets fried?” “What if they don’t like me?” “What if… What if… What if…?”
I went into my first rehearsal feeling completely inadequate. I just knew that everyone there would judge me and think that I was a sub-par performer as a complete newbie to the process. I only knew one person in the entire 40+ member chorus already, and figured I would be shunned by the rest.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The chorus members ranged from a few newbies like me up to members with decades of experience. The seasoned members were a wealth and abundance of knowledge about how to get the job done. Not only that, but the entire cast and crew made me feel extremely welcome. And let’s not forget to mention the rush that I felt every time I heard our amazing chorus sing together. Or the first time that I heard each of the principal cast members sing. Or how fun Maestro made the process. Or how helpful our coach was with solidifying the most difficult passages. And all of this while maintaining the level of professionalism that one would expect from an opera house.
Looking back… those “what ifs” did me no good. I questioned issues that weren’t there to start with. I psyched myself out before the process had even begun.
Ultimately, I had been offered a job and was able to complete it. But what I learned in the process was that I wasn’t able to do it alone. It takes a massive team of people – cast, crew, coaches – to put on such a huge production. And I am grateful for every single one of them. (If you’re one of those people and you’re reading this… THANK YOU for welcoming and teaching this newbie throughout the show.)
In case you’re wondering, I performed that opening choreography without a hitch for the rest of the run of the show. 🙂