The 56 voices can be thin. They can be heavy. They can be the wind running through the trees or a storm buffeting a castle atop a cliff.
They are the brand-new Spoleto Festival USA Chorus. Their versatility will be on display when more than half of those singers will perform at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church on June 3 and 11. But this choral concert is just one of many opportunities for Spoleto audiences to hear a group assembled over the last eight months in an attempt to bring what the festival’s newly appointed general director, Mena Mark Hanna, described as “the freshness and perspective of talented emerging artists.”
The 32 choristers performing in the St. Matthew’s concerts, which will include works by Anton Bruckner, Johannes Brahms and Benjamin Britten, also make up the chorus of “La Boheme” during the festival, while the other 24 perform in Spoleto’s other major opera, “Omar.” Smaller groups of the “Omar” choristers will also participate in “Lift Every Voice,” a concert dedicated to music of the Black experience, and in the U.S. premiere of the Nico Muhly/Alice Goodman work “The Street.” Then on June 9, all 56 will combine forces as part of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
“Not only will the festival embolden their careers and provide them invaluable platforms from which to grow, but the festival’s vocal brilliance will increase, too,” said Joe Miller, who has served as Spoleto’s director of choral activities since 2007. “This new adventure, this new choir — it will be a whole new world this year.”
In the past, Spoleto has employed the services of the Westminster Choir, for which Miller previously served as director. But Hanna said creating its own ensemble from top to bottom – one that can give voice to jazz, blues and spirituals as well as opera — has allowed the festival greater flexibility in designing a season.
“We wanted to build a chorus from scratch that would give these artists a chance to work on repertoire on an incredibly high level that they would not have outside the community,” he said.
Auditions were held in four cities over the last year, and the chorus arrived at Charleston in mid-May.
“For the first week of the rehearsal, these musicians primarily focused on the operas, with up to six hours of rehearsals every day,” Miller said. “Then we began rehearsals on all the choral offerings. And they perform during the rehearsals.”
“Omar” is scheduled to be performed at Los Angeles Opera and Boston Lyric Opera after its Spoleto run, but with a new chorus: The Spoleto Festival USA Chorus will disband once the 17-day festival is over. During that time, though, Miller hopes they will have a chance to see some dance or theater as well.
“It will be a very busy season, and they will have rehearsals almost every day,” Miller said. “But they will have time to go see other things.”
For tickets to see the Spoleto Festival USA Chorus on June 3 and June 11, visit spoleto.org/chorus-concert.
Tina Zhu is a graduate student in the Goldring Arts Journalism and Communications Program at Syracuse University.
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