At the end of “Faust,” that dark tale of sin and, for some, redemption, the voices of angels envelop a character ascending into heaven. If it sounds as if the voices are coming from a magical and distant place, that’s because they are.
Sadly for the chorus, they never get to hear the full effect because they’re singing from a tiny room four floors above the stage. All that connects them to the world below are flights of narrow steps, a 7-inch TV screen and audio monitors so they can see and hear the conductor and stage.
“So when the heavenly choir sings at the end it really is coming from above,” said Walter Huff, choir master for the San Diego Opera.
That’s all some audience members will remember about the chorus, even though they’ve spent considerably more time in sight, Huff jokingly predicted.
“And after we’ve sung an hour-and-a-half on stage,” he said, “someone will come up and say ‘I loved that off-stage chorus!’ “
The roles and sizes of the choruses in different operas vary wildly — from telling stories to acting as characters to standing in as living set pieces. Townfolk. Rowdy friends. Soldiers or scoundrels.