This morning, like many mornings, began with coffee. Today it was Starbucks, mostly because there is one conveniently located around the corner from the Cathedral Church or St. Luke and St. Paul and Wellbrock Hall. The staff at St. Luke/St. Paul have been hosting Westminster Choir rehearsals for many years, and Wellbrock Hall, with its black and white checkered floor, large windows, and hot tea station is so appealing. Dr. Miller was still traveling when we met this morning, so Katy Lushman, graduate assistant to the Westminster Choir and soprano section leader, led us through some portions of the Puccini opera to ensure our continued success at the rehearsals later in the evening. Papa Miller has been working with the Berlin Radio Symphony Chorus for the past couple of weeks, and while we are always happy to hear of his musical adventures, we definitely look forward to having him back with us in Charleston.
Returning has been so wonderfully easy. From the first minutes back, it felt almost like the last school year was sort of an illusion, and now we were all home again. It is a little strange, but absolutely true. We have gone back to favorite restaurants, taken walks to favorite places, and it all feels so natural. After lunch with some lovely ladies, soprano Allie Faulkner and I parked ourselves in Marion Square Park to soak up some of the glorious sunshine. Allie has one of the title roles in the Giordano opera, Mese Mariano. She along with four others (Anne Marie Stanley, Shari Perman, Justin Su’esu’e, and Nicole Fragala – also known as the ‘Giordano 5’) arrived in Charleston about a week before the rest to begin rehearsals on the first one-act of the double bill. They enjoyed their time as a small group and were happy for the rest of the choir to join in the Spoleto fun.
We had an evening rehearsal of Le Villi to block and run the second half, and this was also our first run with the principals. Le Villi is Puccini’s first opera, and, like Giordano’s Mese Mariano, it is a lush, emotional, spectral depiction of a woman’s love. There are three main characters: Ana (soprano Jennifer Rowley), Roberto (tenor Dinyar Vania), and Gugliemo (baritone Levi Hernandez). Levi Hernandez is a Westminster alumnus, and he studies currently with Elem Eley, a member of the voice faculty. A number of the choir members, including Allie and Kyle, also study with Professor Eley. Small world, indeed!
We ran the garden party scene a number of times, continually refining and cleaning up the movements while deepening our personal concepts of individual characters evidenced in the score. During the dinner break, it was obviously time for more barbeque at Nick’s (right across the street from the Sotille Theatre where the opera rehearsals are held, and absolutely a go-to for fantastic food. Did you know that mac and cheese was a vegetable!? According to Nick’s it is!) I enjoyed dinner with tenors Ryan Cassel, Johnny Wilson, and Kyle Van Schoonhoven, bass Brandon Waddles, and fellow alto Lena Andreala. After stuffing ourselves with cheese biscuits, collard greens, ribs and pulled pork, Lena and I walked back to the Sotille for a night rehearsal.
The women were called about an hour before the men for this one, because all of the men’s singing at the end of Le Villi is from offstage. The women, however, have large roles to play in powering the plot to the end. I will reserve vivid descriptions of the final scenes of Le Villi for future posts, and for now will just say that we are in an asylum and our movements are appropriate to our geography. The men began arriving later in the rehearsal, and by their own admission were sincerely scared by what we were portraying.
Dr. Miller was present for our night rehearsal, and we were so happy to see him. His luggage did not make it to Charleston, and in fact hasn’t yet been found. At least if you have to shop for new threads, this is great city in which to do it. Many choir members have already been purchasing outfits for graduation and other summer occasions.
Back at the dorm, we spent some time hanging out in the hallway. Some students are still writing papers and completing projects. Bass Michael Spaziani has a birthday tomorrow, so we spent a little time decorating his door and passing around a card for the choir to sign. When we meet for rehearsal tomorrow, it is pretty certain that we will sing the standard Westminster Choir Happy Birthday, with as much divisi as there are singers in the choir.