The continued oral history of the auditions, decisions and opening nights of the the Metropolitan Opera Chorus’ three newest members. For Part 1, click here.
When we left our heroes (new Met choristers Patrick Miller, Sara Heaton and Brian Anderson) all three had been accepted to the full time chorus. However, now we have to backtrack to see how Patrick and Brian spent their summers while Sara was still waiting to learn her fate:
Patrick Miller: Over the summer I had already agreed to sing Don Jose [in Carmen] with Boheme Opera of New Jersey; that was particularly sweet because it felt like my swan song as a soloist. I really relished it. There wasn't the kind of pressure you have in some other gigs where you worry: What’s the review going to be like? What’s my agent going say? And it was a new role for me, so rather than thinking "where will this gig take me?" (as we often do working gig-to-gig), I could just sit back and savor the experience.
Brian Anderson: We made a point to really enjoy the summer and be with our kids.
Patrick: We went to Minneapolis and then traveled around the country; in a normal summer we might only have gone for a week because I would have to come back here for work or auditions. Knowing the schedule I would have starting August 1, we were like: "Let's take a month! We'll visit all our friends and family", so that's what we did!
Brian: Just spend as much quality time as possible with family — especially with my two older boys because they live a distance away and this year it’s going to be hard to travel.
Patrick: Oh yeah, and the first thing we bought was a new sofa! 1
It wasn't all fun and games (and sofa purchases) for our new choristers though.
Brian: I did look at some scores. I looked at La bohème… I definitely looked at Manon Lascaut. I tried to focus on things that were earlier in the season. But, other than that, I really just gave my mind a rest knowing that once I got into this mode of working I would be studying a lot — which I have been!
Patrick: And I brought three operas home which I memorized… Rigoletto, Bohème and Manon Lescaut - the three shows that the rest of the chorus already knew.
Preseason began August 1st. Sara had been notified three days earlier and joined Brian, Patrick and the entire rest of the chorus for seven weeks of music and preliminary staging rehearsals.
Brian: It was not a huge transition for me. I could really just dive into the work. Because I knew what was ahead of me; with Christina being here, I felt like the kids and I have been hanging outside the chorus office forever!
Sara Heaton: I will admit that the work of music-learning in preseason was very daunting and overwhelming.
Craig Montgomery (Chorus Librarian): You get all your music for the whole season on your first day. The men will have between 18 and 22 operas that they’re in and the women a few less, especially because there are four male chorus only operas this season. So they would have gotten, say between 14 and 18 scores.
Sara: For shows like William Tell and L’amour de Loin that we were spending a lot of time on in List Hall rehearsals [where the chorus has music rehearsal], I could pick it up at a similar pace to everyone else. The days I felt the most overwhelmed was when we would spend an hour and a half on something I was OK with, but then we would read through something the chorus had sung a million times like Aida or Manon Lascaut. Everyone else knew it perfectly, but I had never sung it before!
Craig: On what you might call the "opera potpourri" days, you have on your schedule as many as 6 to 8 different operas. It might just be specific sections but you cover a lot of territory!
Sara: It got easier when we started staging. When I looked at the opening dates for each show on the calendar, I started to feel that, even if I couldn’t get everything right in the music rehearsal, at least I have until that date to really get it… but ideally before that! In that first month we were just touching on so much stuff. That was tough. I love to be really prepared. It’s hard to feel behind. That is literally my nightmare: to walk onstage and they say "OK we’re starting on this page" — and it’s a page I’ve never seen before!
Opening Night (and beyond)
Preseason came to a close on September 26th and it was time for opening night. Unusually, the season opened with two largely off-stage partial-chorus operas (Tristan und Isolde and Don Giovanni). It was not until La bohème, on the third night of the season, that the whole chorus appeared onstage together.
Brian: Walking in the doors that first night and not signing my name up here but signing my name down here. You know, that was big… that was a big moment. I had been thinking about that for a long time: “Boy, I’d really like to sign my name down there.”
Readers probably don't have the slightest idea what Brian is talking about! So here’s a little “inside baseball” on the inner workings of the Metropolitan Opera: when you walk into the stage doors at the Met, there is a sign-in sheet for the regular chorus on a podium to your right. The extra chorus sign-in sheet is taped to the wall above it.
Sara: I think the moment it felt really different was the first Bohème when the curtain opens and the audience claps… because I’ve been in that audience before, clapping like “OH MY GOD, THAT SET’S AMAZING!” Also I just really love Bohème, and Musetta was one of the first opera roles I performed. That moment was when I felt like, “This is really happening!” People come here and they see this beautiful, mind-blowing set and there’s just this warm feeling in the house. That what it’s all about.
Brian: It was exciting! La bohème was the first opera I ever saw at the Met and now I'm sitting on the set! It was really a thrill.
Patrick: People kept coming up to me and saying things like: “Welcome to the first night of the rest of your life!” and "You’re going to spend a lot of time in this Parisian quarter you know!" With my top hat, costume, and beard (when I had it) 2 , people kept telling me I looked like a Charles Dickens character. During my fittings, the costumers said “We made a new one for you because you’re going to wear it literally hundreds of times” and I thought: “That's cool… I like the sound of that.”
Sara: On Bohème opening night the women of the chorus put up these amazing decorations all over my dressing area and everyone gave me presents. My desk was overflowing with gift bags and cards! It was incredible!
With the excitement of opening night over, our three fearless choristers can reflect on what it took to get here and what lies ahead.
Sara: My life has changed completely. Almost like a flip… a 180. So much has changed: the rhythm of my days, my outlook on things. One of the biggest things is that I know where I’m going to be this year. Before, it was hard to plan a couple months out. Things could change so quickly.
Patrick: Every year, as an extra chorister, when I sang my last performance on the stage, I would really savor it because I always knew this could be the last time I sing on this stage. I was enjoying it and taking it all in and really savoring the moments.
Brian: I really feel almost like I graduated in here, because I really felt like I was developing my choral singing ability the whole time.
Patrick: Because I was in the extra chorus for five years, I had a decent idea of what life was going to be like and what I was getting into. My wife and I had a long talk about how it’s going to be. I’m going to be gone in the morning, my daughter will be asleep every night by the time I get home. We're prepared for that and when the grind starts - when it gets really crazy... well I hope I will be as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and excited as I am now!
Sara: And now there's a knowledge “I will be here… I’ll be working here next week”. I know where I'll be in January, I know what I’ll be doing next April… that’s a really different way of thinking about my life. The change is almost too much to put into words.
Your humble reporter is happy to report that we have opened three shows since these interviews: L'italiana in Algeri, Guillaume Tell and Jenufa, and Sara, Patrick and Brian are singing and performing in them admirably. They are off to a great start and we look forward to many more years of seeing them on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera!
That was your tireless reporter’s first purchase after getting into the Met Chorus too! ↩
It really was a great beard! Patrick was asked to shave it for Don Giovanni — talk about sacrifices for the job! ↩
Edward Hanlon, graduate of McGill University and University of Michigan, is a happy Long Island boy making good with the Metropolitan Opera. Favorite roles include Figaro, Sparafucile, Dick Deadeye, Sarastro and Nick Bottom with companies such as the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Lincoln Center Theatre, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Des Moines Metro Opera and the Glimmerglass Festival. He dreams of singing another Figaro with his beautiful wife, soprano Tanya Roberts. His first novel is is due to be released
at the end of the 2017-18 season
... umm... someday? Check out his website and follow him on Facebook or Instagram.