Ask any non-musician to describe their concept of opera, and you’ll most likely get a Wagnerian Brunhilde. Ask that same person to hum a few bars from an opera, and if they are able to produce anything at all, it will probably be a snippet of Figaro from Rossini, or one of the many recognizable melodies from George Bizet’s Carmen. Most likely, the lyrics will be one of the many bastardizations made popular by Bugs Bunny or other popular culture.
This weekend is our performance of Carmen with the Greenville Symphony Orchestra at the Peace Center. We have Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon performances. Combine that with extra rehearsals, and this weekend is shot.
This is a concert setting of the orchestra. We (the Chorale) will be in regular concert attire, while several soloists will be in costume. Since we’re just back-up for this gig, we get to sit for the duration of the concert, which is a nice change.
Rehearsals have been a challenge. You have to jam a ton of French into quick rhythms. Those that can’t quite master the language have been requested to simply sing "tah" so that at least the articulation of the notes comes through. In most cases, we’re simply echoing the solo, so the text is no big deal.
As if the French weren’t bad enough, add to that the fact that our music scores only show what we sing, nothing else. We don’t have the piano part, or anything else to put what we’re singing into context. We get a few cue notes, but that’s it. This always makes it more of a challenge. I was tempted to go buy a full piano reduction just so I’d know what was happening.
But back to the music. It doesn’t surprise me that these tunes are so recognizable. They are catchy. They have been based on folk melodies, so there is an inherent appeal.
What does surprise me is when I recognize a snippet from one of these pieces in an unexpected context (other than direct quotation by Looney Tunes or Gilligan’s Island.) For example, there is a brief interlude in one of the Toreador sections of Carmen that forms the basis for the opening to Jethro Tull’s "Bungle in the Jungle." Ian Anderson would probably deny this, but the rhythms and progressions match almost note-for-note. Anderson did incorporate other classical music, such as renditions of Bach’s "Bouree" and Beethovens "Sonata Pathetique," so this shouldn’t come as a surprise.
As difficult as this has been, I’m sure everything will come together when we get with the orchestra this evening, as it always does. Maestro Tzchivel likes to take things very fast (that way, the bad notes don’t last as long) , so the first rehearsal will be spent getting accustomed to the sound and room. Still it should be fun.