Ariodante is a lesser known opera seria by Handel in 3 acts. From a chorister’s perspective, it is unlike any production that Lyric has done. There are only 12 choristers on stage in the opera, the fewest number ever, and the majority of time that the chorus is on stage which is almost the entire opera, they don’t sing.
This particular production directed by Richard Jones, had its premiere in Aix en Provence in 2014. Since then, it has been performed at the Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam, and the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto. There are four professional puppeteers involved in this production, including Kate Colebrook, Associate Puppetry Director, who has performed in all of the productions so far. For this production at Lyric, dances, choral interludes, and an Act 3 duet have been cut due to budget constraints for rehearsal time. With those cuts, the opera is 3 hours and 50 minutes long, including 2 intermissions. AGMA’s most recent negotiations resulted in a 4 week cut in preparation time per season, and yet we are still performing the same number of productions. This huge cut in rehearsal time has been felt very intensely this season, especially in the operas Cendrillon and Ariodante.
According to Kate, we had at least one week less rehearsal time than any other opera company who did this production. As a result, rehearsals were very intense from all artists’ perspectives, including Associate Director Benjamin Davis and Choreographer Lucy Burge. This production, like any good Handel production, requires extremely detailed movement to accompany the music. The text repeats many times, and all of the arias have an A section which is repeated, during in which the singer provides ornaments to embellish the melody. There are 3 musical segments originally written for ballet, that have been brilliantly refashioned as complicated puppet shows involving choristers, that add to the emotional power of the production.
The Chorus rehearses and memorizes the music that they sing before staging rehearsals begin, but for this show, I believe we had 9-12 staging rehearsal hours before we even sang the music we had learned. The majority of our staging rehearsal time was spent listening to all of the music we hadn’t learned, which is most of the show, while being required to execute choreographed movement on specific musical beats.
When we were not rehearsing with the principal singers, we would go to another rehearsal room to learn and repeat the puppet sequences which are “extremely detailed and complex”, according to Kate. I asked her how the Lyric Opera of Chicago Chorus compares with other choruses who have done this production; “They are incredibly focused and pick up very quickly what is needed to make the piece work. This is maybe due to the amount of time spent in rehearsal and the fact that they are performing multiple shows! I have been very impressed with the open attitude and ability within the group.” I also asked what makes LOSA members that she has worked with at Lyric unique; she replied, “Their level of professionalism, energy and dedication.”
It has been a great pleasure working with Kate and the other talented puppeteers. What a privilege to meet other artists who work in an art form that is not familiar to us. They truly make the puppets come to life with their breath, gravity, and infusion of soul. Their talents along with an incredible cast performing vocal gymnastics, virtuostic orchestra playing, and Baroque conducting genius Harry Bicket in the pit, doubling on harpsichord, make this operatic experience one not to miss!