Children’s Chorus? Do We Need a New Name?

Well, Ladies and Gentlemen — fans of The Atlanta Opera — after a 5 month hiatus, our blog is up and running again. So much is happening around here, and we are thrilled to be sharing the ins-and-outs of our company with you. Absence makes the heart grow fonder…. or so they say. Have you missed us?

As many of you know, we open our 31st season on October 2 with Puccini’s LA BOHEME. So romantic, so sad, so…. many things that touch our hearts. But there is one facet of the production that, we believe, is underexplored — the Children’s Chorus. They are so ingrained in the fabric of the production, that we sometimes forget how uncommon it is to have children appear in an opera, and how lovely the on-stage dynamic becomes.

Will Breytspraak, this season’s Children’s Chorus Master, is not a stranger to cultivating young voices. Below, he asks the question — should we call these budding performers a “Children’s Chorus?” They undergo the same arduous audition and rehearsal process as the adults, and are an integral part of ACT II of LA BOHEME. In many ways, they serve as a necessary foil to the tragedy about to unfold. Are we reducing their importance by calling them, simply, a “Children’s Chorus?”

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There are few scenes in opera more exuberant than LA BOHEME’s famous Christmas Eve street scene, and the Children’s Chorus is an indispensable part of the excitement. Whether delighting in the toys of Parpignol, or taking part in all sorts of other mischief on the street, children are able to bring the sort of unrestrained quality to the action that a lavishly joyous Christmas Eve scene demands. If the children do their job, which I am certain they will, they will appear to the audience just to be ordinary, “happy-go-lucky” kids having the time of their lives.

Behind the scenes it’s quite a different story. Through a highly competitive audition process (with more than 55 kids auditioning for 13 spots), these are kids who have made the cut. They come from all over the Atlanta metropolitan area, and one (Brett Cooper) even commutes all the way from Chattanooga, Tennessee!

These kids have learned their music and roles with a childlike curiosity and zeal, but with the professionalism of seasoned performers. Their maturity allows them to not just sing and act their parts, but to precisely fit them in with all of the excitement going on around them. Each singer must operate like an intelligent soloist, and be able to sing their complicated parts from wherever they find themselves in the elaborate staging.

It has been an imaginative process for us to place ourselves in 1830’s Paris, when street urchins and other children would have run freely around the streets. This sort of scene is foreign to these kids, who have not experienced that sort of freedom on busy modern day streets. When we tried to explore the excitement children would have felt at the sight of the toy seller, Parpignol, the kids lit up at a comparison to how they might feel and act when the ice cream man drives through.

Interestingly, I think “Children’s Chorus” is something of a misnomer now that we have reached dress rehearsals and performances. Even though we have done all of this work together toward collective precision (as a choir does), performing at this level demands a Herculean mental and physical effort. And every bit of the scene must be as fresh and spontaneous as the falling Christmas Eve snow.

I am so impressed by the unique qualities of each of these kids, that “Children’s Chorus” is not an adequate name for the group. The only other name I can think of is probably too long:

“Andrew, Brett, Cassady, Emma, Eric, Francesca, George, Jonah, Marguerite, Sara, Sophia, Taylor, and Thomas!”

But then I think back to how we started — to how we worked so hard together and got to know each other through this shared experience. And then I like the name — “Children’s Chorus.” We are “The Atlanta Opera Children’s Chorus!”