Shelter-in-place order forces San Francisco Opera to rehearse at home

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The COVID-19 shutdown has forced big changes at the San Francisco opera, not on the stage, but in the homes of its cast members.

The sound of a high C reverberates through the living room as San Francisco Chorus member Mitzie Weiner warms up with the repetition, "I love to sing, I love to sing."

After years with the Chorus, Weiner does indeed still love to sing, but for now, it's mostly at home.

"My ceilings are really tall, I had to silence my clock," she laughs as she leads a cell-phone tour for ABC7.

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Fellow Chorus member Sigmund Seigel is also often warming up to an audience of one these days.

"And as the voice gets warmed up, it's kind of like warming up a car, and then you add a little more volume and slowly get up to scale" explains Seigel as his high tenor notes progress.

Since the doors of the War Memorial Opera House closed with the Covid shutdown, the opera choristers have been forced off the stage they, and their audience, know and love so well.

No more booming performances to keep their voices strong and their timing razor sharp.
Instead, they're doing what thousands in the Bay Area are doing, adapting with technology.

"I'd like to start again with the Verde va pensiero, please," instructs Chorus Director Ian Robertson to the cast assembled on his computer screen.

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Robertson now directs a full schedule of rehearsals via Zoom. Dozens of performers, assembled on a Brady Bunch matrix of squares, working towards the next, someday performance.

"We can work on language, we can work on notes, we can do a little of the shaping," Robertson explains.

What they can't do is sing all at once, the technical challenges were just too cumbersome to rehearse in the traditional sense.

So the choristers, led by the Robertson and a pianist, follow along in mute mode, singing to themselves and learning the language, twists, and nuances of the piece.
"And they will watch me conducting to a certain degree. And, we let them sing and try to create the shapes that we want," he says.

Chorus members say the virtual performances provide both a physical and spiritual tune up, for this tight knit company.

"It was like having a family reunion, the first rehearsal because we were coming from the off season," says Weiner.

"We all know each other, we all have our own opinions, but when push comes to shove we work together as an amazing team to make the best performance we can," echoes Seigel.

Even if that work is far from the kind of stage Verdi or Puccini might have imagined.

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