Katherine Wiles is just one of nearly 40 voices singing perfectly in harmony in the Opera Australia Chorus. Each of those singers is a soloist in their own right, but together, they form Australia’s busiest full time professional Chorus.
Some are singers at the beginning of their career, seeking to develop their voice before they embark on a career as a principal singer. Some are hoping to be discovered and launch a career as a soloist, others are content to sing as part of a mass of voices, singing something different every night in the busy Opera Australia season.
We asked Chorus member Katherine Wiles to share some insights into what it’s like to sing in the Chorus. In 2013, Wiles also sang the role of Cupid in Orpheus in the Underworld and Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni for Oz Opera. She is currently performing in the Opera Australia Chorus for the Melbourne Ring Cycle.
What is the role of the Chorus in an opera?
The Chorus is there to observe, react, create tension, create focus, and represent society in so many different areas, be it a village scene, wedding guests, soldiers, factory workers, mothers, family, relatives. I think the presence of the Chorus and its vocal contribution helps to create a stronger performance and support the soloists. I think as much as the audience love to see an intimate scene between one or two soloists on stage, there is something special when the Chorus enter and sing as a mass. It can be very powerful to be part of.
You sing both in the Chorus and as a principal. How does it feel different? What do you enjoy about singing as part of the Chorus?
It is a gift to sing as a soloist for a prestigious Company such as Opera Australia. There is also something incredibly powerful to be singing as part of a Chorus. When every chorister comes together, singing as one voice vocally, dramatically and musically, it can be a magical experience.
The key is listening to each other and being able to blend as one voice. I think this is a real skill that takes time to perfect, and because we sing together so regularly, I think we have mastered it to perfection. I am incredibly proud to be part of the Chorus, and some of my most memorable moments on stage have been singing with my colleagues, or having my colleagues support me when I have been undertaking solo roles. There are times when I have been singing with my fellow choristers, and the sound is so moving and beautiful, I could cry. Even sometimes sitting in a music call, listening to the men sing a passage on their own, is something so beautiful.
A lot of magical moments happen in the rehearsal room, even before we have layered the production aspects on top. This is when all those hours of hard work and repetition come together to create something so exquisite. We are all soloists in our own right in the Chorus, but when you are singing as a group, you need to be able to forget that part of your voice, and learn to blend and listen to each other, so in a way, you need two techniques — the technique to sing as a soloist and the technique to sing as a chorister.
What is your favourite operatic Chorus, and why?
Well, most of my colleagues would probably disagree with me, but I love singing or should I say humming, the Humming Chorus from Madama Butterfly. We are always off-stage singing this. I have been in the audience once before watching the production, and when the Humming Chorus started, it was such an exquisite moment in the theatre. It certainly isn’t the easiest thing to sing, but I adore it. I’m excited that this piece is going to be in the Chorus Concert.
I love Act 4 of Carmen, and anything from Turandot. Singing Turandot amongst your colleagues on stage is an incredible experience. Another memorable moment was performing Peter Grimes. There was such a sense of achievement from every single person on that stage, and it brought me to tears every night. There are special moments vocally in every opera we perform.
Katherine Wiles is singing with the Opera Australia Chorus in a rare concert – “Great Operatic Choruses” as part of the Melbourne Ring Festival. There’s one more chance to hear the Chorus in concert – Thursday, November 28. More info and tickets here.