Viewpoint: Parsifal

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Published: 13th March, 2019

As a member of  Victorian Opera Youth Chorus Ensemble, VOYCE, Hayley Jobson writes about her experience as a member of the chorus for Victorian Opera’s recent production of Parsifal. VOYCE is for secondary school and tertiary students, aged 13-20. It brings together like-minded classically trained singers on a weekly basis to prepare them for an opera chorus performance. Hayley is currently a music student at the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School.

I began my experience with Victorian Opera in 2017, as a member of the Victorian Opera Youth Chorus Ensemble (VOYCE). In 2017, I performed in the youth opera, The Second Hurricane then during 2018 I was a part of The Magic Pudding. Most recently, I was selected to be a chorus member in Parsifal.

The Parsifal rehearsals were quite challenging, as Wagner’s music has some interesting harmonies. Angus Grant our VOYCE choir director, Phillipa Safey and Phoebe Briggs, who are our repetiteurs, helped us learn all our parts and words for the performance of Parsifal. We also had Liane Keegan come in as a guest to several rehearsals last year to help us start learning the Parsifal score. She helped us with our diction and pronunciation of the German language.

As I hadn’t seen any Wagner operas before Parsifal, I was brought into the magical music and characters he creates. Being able to perform in a fully staged production was extraordinary. The atmosphere of the rehearsal and performance space was great; I was able to hear the more experienced performers sing by themselves and along side me. Their articulation, pronunciation of the German language, was astonishing, not to mention the singers’ energy towards their projection, control and expression of every single note.

During rehearsals at the Palais Theatre, Burkhard Fritz, who plays Parsifal, helped VOYCE further with our German pronunciation. He was really friendly and positive about it; this was great because we were still struggling with a few words. Before the shows, we had a 20-minute warm up with the full chorus, which was run by Richard Mills and Phillipa Safey, finishing the warm up always with a “toi toi toi”.

Most of the chorus wore black long-sleeved tops and long pants. This was a challenge as throughout the performance week it was extremely hot Melbourne weather. We drank lots of water and sat under the aircon just before we went on. I particularly liked Klingsor’s and the flower maidens’ costumes. The sparklyness of the costumes was stunning.

VOYCE sang with the Victorian Opera chorus and also the Melbourne University chorus. Listening to the choruses sing without VOYCE was incredible; the male chorus was so powerful and the sound filled the theatre. With VOYCE added to the chorus the atmosphere felt very grand. As the VOYCE chorus is backstage at the beginning of the first Act we didn’t get to see what was happening. However, during rehearsals at Horti Hall we got little snippets of the first act while they were being rehearsed. On opening night, following the dinner break, VOYCE was given the chance to sit in the audience to watch the rest of the performance.

When we watched the rest of the performance we got to see a lot more. The props were fascinating – the swan looked so real. The Grail and the box it came in lit up, giving it a magical effect.

Wagner’s music is so grand and powerful. The performance was a must see, the atmosphere of the whole performance was so very moving. I was excited to be a part of this production, as I loved listening to the professional Wagner singers whilst singing with them too.