June 6, 2018

Andy and Tommy – In costume for Turandot – Opera Birmingham 2009

Been sorting photos today, especially photos of me and Tommy on stage in various productions so tonight the story of how I ended up in the Opera Birmingham chorus.

When Tommy and I first started dabbling in theater in 2003-04, we became heavily involved in the local musical theater scene, especially with CenterStage productions and later with Magic City Actors Theater. This culminated in 2006 when he produced and I directed Kiss Me, Kate at the Virginia Samford Theater. (I thought it was a great show, but no one ever seems to think of me when choosing directors…). That same year, at the age of 41, he decided to go back to school to complete undergraduate degrees at the University of Montevallo. His first year was 2006-07 and the Music Department wasn’t sure what to do with a returning student of his age. He, however, knew what he wanted and within a few months had rediscovered the joys of classical singing. That fall, he was encouraged to audition for the Opera Birmingham chorus as they were always short tenors. He had been involved with the opera in the past, but not for some years and was a bit nervous but he went and sang for Mimi Jackson who was the then chorus master and won the role. His first opera was La Cenerentola in January of 2007 and he had a wonderful time, immediately signing up for every other opera that came along that and the next season. In the meantime, I was busy with musical comedy supporting parts like Lazar Wolf and Mayor Shinn.

In the fall of 2008, he began rehearsing for the January 2009 production of Turandot. The opera had hired a new chorus master after Mimi’s retirement. For various reasons, the chorus was not filled and, when the maestro and principals arrived in early January for staging rehearsals, they found a chorus less than half the size necessary for proper musical balance. The opera administration hunkered down in emergency mode and made a list of local folks who had stage experience and could at least carry a tune and started calling. Jan Hunter, who was the office manager at the time, called me one morning and asked if I could learn three acts of Puccini in Italian in a couple of days. I’d never tried to do anything like that and had seen how much Tommy enjoyed it so I asked him if I should do it. He said, go for it so the next day I marched down the rehearsal hall, got handed a score, and I got a crash course in opera chorus along with about fifteen others who were in the same boat.

Three weeks later, we were all on stage with Roy Cornelius Smith, Lori Phillips and Veronica Chapman-Smith. Staging was minimalized as so many of us were desperately trying to learn the music as we went along, but the end result was successful. (I must admit, however, I never did learn more than the vowel sounds to Act III and most of the time I was listening desperately for Randy Mayo and cueing off his voice). I must have done something right as I was asked back, and asked back, and asked back. I’ve now done ten seasons in the chorus and performed in thirteen operas and look forward to many more. Next up is Tosca next spring.

If you had told me a dozen years ago that I’d spend ten years in an opera chorus, I would have laughed hysterically. Funny how things work out sometimes.

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