FM Opera chorister Martha Moore, back row, second-to-left, performs in “Cinderella” alongside chorus members, left to right, Emily Paulson (seated), Jessica Livdahl, Julie Ly (seated), Moore, Judi Cushing, Svea Hagen and 2022 Gate City Bank Young Artist Zachary Brown.
In search of your next big act? FM Opera might just have the “operatunity” you’ve been looking for.
The community’s only opera company holds chorus members every year, typically in August, where anyone with a decent voice and passion for the stage is welcome to audition.
Singers don’t need to carry a degree in theatre, music or any of the Romance languages, but they do need to know how to carry a tune, said FM Opera General Director David Hamilton. Many chorus members come from church choir backgrounds or sang in college, for example. Choristers are paid an honorarium for their participation and they’re considered one of the most important parts of many opera productions.
“Chorus members help create the beauty and power of the music and the storytelling for each opera. We have a wide range of age groups from high school through to older adults,” he said. “I think people want to be a part of the chorus because they love singing and want to be on the stage.”
Aside from a love of singing and the stage, singers who want to audition are required to perform one classical piece (doesn’t need to be memorized). A pianist will be provided unless applicants prefer to bring their own.
Hamilton said the chorus typically rehearses once a week for up to eight weeks prior to a live show. The intensity ramps up two weeks prior to curtain call when the chorus attends staging and production rehearsals, which take up about 15 hours a week. But there’s plenty of fun, too.
“We have so much fun as we create a production that chorus members come back year after year,” Hamilton said. “You get to sing with an orchestra. How cool is that? And, you get to
know and work with singers, conductors and stage directors from all over the country.”
Longtime FM Opera chorister Martha Moore, seated on the sofa second from right, performs in “Pirates of Penzance.” On the floor are, from left, Sadie Cheslak, Claire Bias, Joshua Kohl, Zoe Mischtian and Tessa Larson. On the sofa, from left, Berit Johnson, 2017 Gate City Bank Young Artist Elizabeth Lewis, Kellani Arnold, Emily Neer, Madeleine Peterson, Moore and Michelle Fischer.
Coming back for Moore: Longtime chorus member celebrates 44 years with FM Opera
To be certain, being a chorus member can be hard work, but it truly can be fun, which is part of what keeps longtime chorister and alto Martha Moore coming back since her first audition in 1978.
“I’ve been singing since I was very small,” Moore said. “My mother and my grandmother were really into singing. When we sing Christmas carols, we do it in four-part harmony.”
Moore, whose family moved to the area from Minneapolis when she was 12, chose the community partially because of the vibrant arts scene.
“My parents, who love opera, and symphony and, and all of that thought, ‘Oh, this is a great community for that.’ And it really has, in my opinion, stayed that way and gotten better,” she said. “I love all the fun things that you can do here.”
In all, Moore has performed in 55 FM Opera productions. She’s also active in the choir at Faith United Methodist Church in North Fargo.
“I guess it’s one of my favorite hobbies to do,” she said. “I kind of call it a hobby because I don’t consider myself really a professional opera singer. As a chorister, I think of myself more as a, you know, a community member who’s having a great deal of fun up there.”
In Moore’s experience, being a chorus member in an opera is perhaps a little more than just being able to carry a tune, so we asked her for advice ahead of upcoming auditions. Here’s what she had to say.
Steal a song, but don’t steal a show
Sing well, but not that well. Act the part, but don’t steal the scene. Basically, be good, but not totally awesome.
“We are all trying to blend together, and nobody should be noticed,” because chorus members shouldn’t outshine the star performers, she said. “So you have to have a personality, you’ve got to interact, watch what’s going on, move around, react, and sing like you’re the only person there. But you also don’t overpower the stars.”
Don’t get lost in translation
Moore added that there’s quite a fair amount of acting and memorization required, which can get a little tricky when the production isn’t in English.
“There is a translation kind of, usually and you so you’re gonna have to learn what you’re saying, even if you don’t know what the specific word means. Get to know what they’re saying to you, and what you’re saying back.
It can be intimidating at first, too, especially for those used to singing in choir, but Moore’s advice: “Listen to what you’re saying and react to it.”
Keep your cool
Moore said it’s easy for any cast member to get nervous on stage, even during rehearsals, but that it’s important to try and be as real as possible.
“I think character matters as well as your ability to sing. You want to look like a real person up there,” she said. “And if you’re auditioning, don’t pick something too hard for your voice.”
Once live on stage, Moore said it’s equally important to be real and keep things cool, calm and collected. Also: concentrate.
“They don’t like you to stare at the conductor, but you gotta be able to out of the corner of your eye be watching him because you got to be in the right spot,” Moore said. “So there is a lot going on, you have to really concentrate.”
Dress the part
Every great actor steps into character—literally. And it’s not just to get better at the part. There are logistics, safety and modesty considerations.
For example, if choristers are rehearsing in tennis shoes but they’ll be onstage in heels, they may be setting themselves up for a long, strange trip.
“How you move in your tennis shoes is completely different in how you move in whatever kind of high heels. And you really need to know, like, ‘how long is it going to take me to walk across the stage in my high heels compared to sloughing around in my sneakers? And how am I going to sit in this chair if I’m in a dress?’ ” she said.
Dresses are an important consideration, too. Stages are usually higher up than the audience is sitting, so if, say, a character in a mini skirt has a scene where they sit down in a chair, well, things can get a little too revealing.
“Those are some fun things that you get to think about,” she said.
Have a good time
Feed off each others’ energy, Moore added, because getting into whatever part is assigned to a chorus member is truly an essential and very deliberate part of the entire show.
“Feed off one another. Especially if you’ve got a principal who’s seen an absolutely gorgeous aria,” she said. “There’s usually so much going on, so much concentration and interaction that “I sort of kind of forget that the audience is out there. It’s a great deal of fun up there.”
About the author
Lonna Whiting is a freelance writer and owner of lonna.co, a content marketing and communications agency located in Fargo, North Dakota. She is a frequent contributor to The Arts Partnership’s content library and also provides strategic communications consultation to the organization.