“The Walter Huff Magic…”

By Ellen Sturgill

Elegant gowns swirl on the dance floor. The smell of a fabulous dinner wafts through the air. A rush of excitement and anticipation hits as The Atlanta Opera’s talented singers perform selections from the quickly approaching season. These are just a few of the sights, sounds, and experiences that one can expect on September 17th at The 2011 Atlanta Opera Ball: “Indulge Your Senses.” Always a stunning event, this year’s celebration is held at The St. Regis Atlanta and will include a special feature in which Chorus Master Walter Huff and The Atlanta Opera Chorus will be honored.

In his 23 years of working with The Atlanta Opera Chorus, Walter Huff has transformed the chorus into a highlight of The Atlanta Opera. Though many people think of the Violetta’s or Don Giovanni’s as the most significant roles in an opera, Walter Huff knows that having a great opera chorus is key to producing a memorable performance. And if anyone knows how to create such a chorus, it’s Walter Huff. He has received numerous awards, worked with celebrated singers like Elly Ameling, and has recently taken The Atlanta Opera Chorus on a European tour of Porgy and Bess that garnered rave reviews, and the longest curtain call Walter has ever received – given to him by a French audience, no less! However, these awards only give you a small glimpse into why Walter is being honored at the Ball. Below, we’ve included two interviews from an Atlanta Opera soloist and a chorus member who will be performing at the Ball, because we feel the best way to get to know Walter is through the people he works with every day. Enjoy getting to know some of our fabulous singers a little better, and learning why Walter Huff deserves high praise.

First up is Nathan Munson, a tenor from Kalamazoo, Michigan. He studied at the University of Kentucky and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Nathan has worked with Walter as a featured soloist.

1. What do you like best about working with Chorus Master Walter Huff? “Walter Huff has impeccable taste as a musician, and an amazing ability to transfer this to his singers’ preparation and performances.”

2. What have you learned from Chorus Master Walter Huff that you will utilize in your professional performing career? “There are many things, but one item that stands above the others is his matter-of-fact manner of inter-personal and musical communication. I’ll be working hard to be as transparently good and as honest a musician as Mr. Huff.”

3. What is your favorite memory of Chorus Master Walter Huff? “Since I’ve only been working with him a short while, every new experience creates a new lasting memory. When I first auditioned for Dennis Hanthorn, Mr. Huff accompanied me at the piano. His warmth on our first introduction put me at ease immediately.”

4. What do you enjoy most about singing and performing opera? “I most enjoy the preparation of a role, from the first time I hear it, to the musical preparation, and through the staging and character development.”

Next we have Megan Mashburn, a 28 year-old Lyric Coloratura Soprano who’s lived in Greenville, South Carolina, Boston, and now Atlanta. She received her Undergraduate Degree from Furman University, her Master’s from Boston University, and has enjoyed working with Walter as a member of The Atlanta Opera Chorus.

1. How long have you performed with The Atlanta Opera Chorus? What is your favorite Atlanta Opera Chorus memory? “2008-2009 was my first season with The Atlanta Opera Chorus. Some of my favorite memories occur when we finally get to the Cobb Energy Centre for dress rehearsals. Seeing everyone in costume, and finally seeing the sets really brings new life to the music we’ve been rehearsing for months. Our singing seems to improve, and we have more energy when we can see the ‘whole picture.’”

2. What do you like best about working with Chorus Master Walter Huff? How is he different from other Chorus Masters? “Chorus Master Huff is very specific and clear about the sound and work ethic he wants from his chorus. He is very careful to honor the style of each composer, but adds his ‘Walter Huff Magic’ to our sound. The Atlanta Opera Chorus is one of the best, if not the best opera chorus in the country because of Walter’s dedication. Walter is a great Chorus Master, because he reminds us that the chorus is a very important character in each opera we sing. He constantly reminds us that though we function as a group, we have an individual responsibility of making art for our audience. Walter also has the best set of ears – he can hear everything – every detail and even the tiniest of mistakes! But this is so great, because this attention to detail helps us be the best!”

3. What have you learned from Chorus Master Walter Huff that you will utilize in your professional performing career? “Walter has taught me about excellence in musicianship and a high-quality of professionalism. More importantly, Walter never loses sight of our human need for expression and communication. He constantly challenges us to give more for the sake of the audience.”

4. What is your favorite memory of Chorus Master Walter Huff? “During my first opera with Atlanta Opera Chorus, my husband found out that he had to have open-heart surgery. 6 weeks after being informed of a congenital heart defect, Mark, who was at the time 25, went in for surgery. We were newly married and I didn’t know what to expect. Walter was one of the most supportive and kind people I talked to during that time. I will never forget how he gave me a big hug and assured me that my new family at The Atlanta Opera would support me. I ended up missing several rehearsals, but Walter Huff was always asking for an update on Mark’s health and my emotional stability!”

5. What do you enjoy most about singing and performing opera? “I love the challenge of operatic music and the unique skills that are required to sing it. I also love getting to live as someone I’m not, for a little while on stage – learning to embody a specific character. It seems like being an ‘opera singer’ is all very glamorous, but singing opera and performing is very hard work! I love all the research, translating, diction-work, and practice that goes into forming the final product. It is all so fulfilling, especially when you finally get the chance to offer a great performance to an audience, after putting so much time and effort into a production.”

From reading these interviews, it’s easy to see why Chorus Master Walter Huff is being honored at this year’s Atlanta Opera Ball. With his technical prowess and ability to draw out an excellent chorus performance, his caring nature and devotion to each member of the chorus, and his “Walter Huff Magic,” The Atlanta Opera is proud to have him as a part of our team!

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