Monday, February 25, 2008
Dame Kiri's backup singers
We sang backup for opera diva Dame Kiri TeKanawa this weekend at the Starlight Symphony concert. She's probably best known for singing at Charles and Diana's wedding a few decades ago, and remains an A-list opera soprano even now. Plus she's a dame, which is not a slang term for loose woman as it is in America, but one of those British honorary titles that I don't understand. I'm sure this genuine dame has had far better singers sharing the stage with her during her long career, but I doubt if she's ever had more singers than the 700 of us.
The event is called Starlight Symphony, and it's a free outdoor concert in the park attended by hundreds of thousands of Aucklanders every summer. Besides the Starlight Symphony Mass Choir (that's us), there are a dozen guest stars including young heartthrob/popera singer Will Martin, and this year's home-grown guest of honour, Dame Kiri.
The lady herself attended our rehearsal a few days earlier, and we had all been briefed ahead of time to "be respectful of her privacy." Translation: no pictures. Apparently she can be a bit of a prima dona at times. In fact, she was absolutely lovely and professional with us, thanking us all for participating, speaking in a teeny tiny voice ... but when she sang her voice was anything but teeny tiny! Man, her singing sails above all 700 of ours - without a microphone, mind you. Her only prima dona moment was when she suggested that we needed to turn our pages a bit more quietly. Granted, hundreds of pages being turned simultaneously inside a hot crowded church could be conspicuously noisy. But does she really think it will be an issue outside at the park?
The opera music for this year's Starlight Symphony was quite challenging for me: Toreadors from Carmen, Triumphal March from Aida, and Anvil Chorus from Trovatore. It was all in Italian or French, and seemed to go lickety split. Eventually I resorted to cheating; I skipped all the fast notes. No sixteenth notes. Skipping every other word or syllable probably made me sound like a stuttering Italian, but I blended in with the other 699 of us just fine. Curt, however, soldiered on to successfully sing all the notes as written. That's the kind of guy he is.
Unfortunately, wet weather caused havoc on the Starlight Symphony schedule this year. On Friday evening, we spent five hours at the park in the pouring rain for a dress rehearsal sound check. The stage where the orchestra and the guest stars performed was covered, but we in the choir were exposed to the elements. In spite of flimsy rain ponchos being distributed and an army of umbrellas, we were drenched to the bone. Even worse, our music was soggy and starting to disintegrate. At least that provided a better excuse for why I'm only singing half the notes. The rain also caused a postponement on Saturday's scheduled performance, but it finally went ahead on Sunday instead. The clouds started to spit a few times, but at least it never developed into full fledged rain so we were grateful. In the end, the whole show turned out impressively, but my highlight was definitely singing the Maori ballad, Hine e Hine, with Kiri. It gave me shivers. How many people can say they sang backup for a dame?