#HOTSpeaks: The HOT Chorus
Though they are often in the backdrop of a production, the Hawaii Opera Theatre Chorus is at the forefront of what makes HOT’s productions world-class. Time and time again, visiting artists are impressed with the dedication, the diversity, and the deep bonds that make up the local, volunteer-based chorus. In this month’s #HOTSpeaks, we share their stories.
Chorister Marcia Wright has been singing for and working with the HOT Chorus for more than 15 years. The first HOT production she sang in was Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma. Since then, she has sung in about a dozen other productions, including Puccini’s Tosca, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, and Verdi’s Aida. When asked what the HOT Chorus means to her, she answered, “singing with people of excellence.”
“I remember my very first rehearsal at Kawaiahao Chuch. We opened the book and we launched right in, which is very different from any church choir I’d ever been in. And the sound was so glorious that I burst into tears just sitting in the middle of all those incredible voices and kind of wondering what I was doing there. It really just opened up my world and my social life.”
Marcia is retired, and while she’s not working with HOT on a production, she spends a lot of time with her church in Kaneohe. It was at the church where HOT’s Head of Music Beebe Freitas had originally recommended Marcia for the HOT choir. Though the most recent production she sang in was four years ago, Marcia remains active with HOT in the wardrobe department.
“I always look forward to the opera season rolling around,” Marcia said. “I enjoy encouraging a number of people I know through church.”
Falefia Jr. Brandon Fuamatu, 24, hadn’t discovered opera until he began studying music at UH Manoa. But once he found it, he came in swinging – literally. During Brandon’s first production with HOT – Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman – he sang while swinging from a rope. The experience, along with singing for HOT’S Orvis Opera Studio, helped influence Brandon’s decision to pursue opera as a career.
“I think the HOT Chorus is such a great example of what Hawaii has to offer to the arts, because the chorus is in itself a melting pot within Hawaii of different people who come together for music and for the love of opera,” Brandon said. “You always hear people saying, ‘There’s no chorus like our chorus.’ They’re so amazed by how diverse our chorus is ethnically and culturally, and even with our backgrounds. It’s a volunteer chorus, so I’ve sang along with lawyers, teachers – people with all kinds of different professions and backgrounds.”
Brandon recently moved to Princeton, New Jersey, where he will be continuing his pursuit of music study at Westminster Choir College. But the HOT Chorus will always have a special place in his heart, he said.
“It’s never going to be the same singing with any other chorus,” he said. “There’s such a specific way we treat each other and respect each other. It’s more of a family than it is a chorus.”
But that’s not all Brandon will miss.
“Our cookouts are pretty world famous for all of the singers who come to Hawaii from the mainland. We don’t fool around with food here in Hawaii,” he said.
Jaime Craycroft also didn’t discover opera until college. Growing up in the North Shore, Jaime said she was removed from the opera scene HOT had created in Honolulu. But when her professors shared opera with her in college, she found it came natural to her. Her first opera with HOT was Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado in 2014. Since then, she has sung with the chorus in Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Verdi’s Il Trovatore, and, most recently, in last season’s production of Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann. The chorus, for Jaime, has brought many opportunities in her career.
“What I really appreciate with the HOT chorus is the professionalism,” said Jaime, 38. “Your first rehearsal you need to have everything learned already. We don‘t spend much time correcting notes or language, and I appreciate that. I am thankful for being able to be myself vocally and being able to be with such fun and vocal people. Everyone there is a lot of fun.”
When Jaime isn’t singing with the choir or with the HOT Orvis Opera Studio, she enjoys Flamenco dancing and spending time with her husband and two daughters. She recently graduated from UH Manoa and plans to teach music and generate her own choir for youth in Wailua.
“I want to inspire and motivate other mothers and students to continue to follow their aspirations to sing on that glorious stage,” she said.
At 17 years old, Angeliki Scordilis is the youngest member of the HOT chorus, but her entire life has been surrounded with opera. She was only 6 months old when her father brought her to see a HOT production of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. The first opera Angeliki remembers listening to and enjoying, however, was a Metropolitan Opera recording of Mozart’s The Magic Flute when she was about 5 years old. Her combined experience in the Hawaii Youth Opera Chorus, which she joined at 4 years old, and the HOT Chorus have brought her onstage for quite a few productions, including Pagliacci’s Carmina Burana, Verdi’s Il Trovatore, and, most recently, Puccini’s La Boheme – her favorite opera.
“It’s a little strange being the youngest member of the adult chorus, because I grew up with everyone,” she said. “And so all the people, they’re like my aunties and uncles. And now instead of watching them, I’m singing with them. The HOT Chorus is like a family. Being able to sing with them– it’s just, like, a very powerful experience.”
When she’s not singing opera, Angeliki is often studying Greek culture and music. She traveled to Greece for the first time this past summer. In the coming year she will leave her home where she grew up in Honolulu and travel to Colorado for college. She dreams of being an English teacher, but she said she’ll always enjoy opera singing.
“I’ll miss being a part of HOT productions,” she said. “It’s been something that I’ve been a part of since I was really small.”
Chris Walsh has been an alto singer with the HOT Choir since 1984, when she sang in her first production of Verdi’s La Traviata. She has since sung in nearly all of the “ABCs” of opera, she said, from Verdi’s Aida to Stravinsky’s Rake’s Progress. As one of the most the most experienced choristers, Chris said she’s now reached “Kupuna status” within the choir. The productions she’s been a part of have taken her through every emotion – from feeling like her heart was “torn out of her chest, thrown on the floor, and stomped on” after singing in Puccini’s Turandot to laughing hysterically after a wall fell over unexpectedly on the set of a production of Camille Saint-Saëns’ Samson and Delilah, revealing a group of sheepish and embarrassed choristers. But as a child, Chris hated opera. It wasn’t until she sang with HOT that she began to enjoy the art form.
“I’ve really gone through the whole spectrum of despising opera to having it be a critical part of my life,” she said. “I have met a great deal of wonderful people, have had incredible life experiences, made lifetime friends – the chorus means an awful lot to me. And it’s a joy having so many diverse people come together for a common goal.”
Off the stage, Chris works for a commercial diving company. She also enjoys cooking, weaving lauhala, and gardening in her yard in Aiea.
“I plan to keep with the chorus,” she said. “I’ll keep singing and supporting these efforts and enjoying watching new singers launch into careers.”
Stay tuned for more chorister stories in the next edition of #HOTSpeaks.