Instead of hearing the likes of Puccini and Mozart at the final Open Mic of Chautauqua Opera Company’s season, people are likely to hear the songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Chautauqua Opera’s Young Artists will present selections from the ever-growing American songbook at 10 p.m. Tuesday, July 31, at the Athenaeum Hotel Parlor. Andy Gale, Shane Schag and Teddy Kern, who have taught the artists pieces from the songbook, will accompany the performers.
Gale, Schag and Kern make up a group of people one would typically see at the core of every opera or musical. With stage directing, musical direction and choreography, respectively, they work together to teach Young Artists the different aspects of the more musical theater-centric songs.
Singing American standards is not something opera singers practice often, Gale said.
“It is a way to introduce them or to have them become more comfortable and secure with the knowledge of that type of singing and songs, which is different than opera,” Gale said.
With musical theater, text is more important than the voice. Learning to perform text-driven pieces adds more skills an opera singer can use, Schag said, and opera performers already have the vocal advantage.
“You’ve got that foundation to build on already because you’ve had that opera voice training,” Schag said.
Most of the teaching comes in the form of paring down the voice to make the text the focus, Gale said.
“In opera, sometimes you’re driving a really large vehicle, … and in this repertoire, you’re driving like a little Maserati,” Gale said. “Depending on the song, sometimes less is more, and sometimes more is more.”
Singing classic musical theater pieces is also different from opera because the performers are singing in English, Kern said. Oftentimes, opera artists are singing in German, Italian or French.
“They’re not really used to singing in their own language and pronouncing words in a normal or natural way,” Kern said. “It’s not Shakespearean; it’s not classic. It’s standard American English written in the 1920s, ’30s, ’40s, ’50s (and so on). Standard American music is unfamiliar to opera singers, many of them.”
The trio enjoys teaching Young Artists about the American songbook. For Gale and Kern, teaching also gives them a chance to work with the same people they’ve worked with in previous years.
At the performance, the songs are randomly chosen and the audience gets to be close to the performers, which is why Gale likes the intimate nature of the Open Mics.
“It’s as if you’re breaking bread,” Gale said.