Fifteen-year-old Hannah McConnaughey of Freeland is currently singing in the youth chorus of Seattle Opera‘s “Turandot,” which runs at McCaw Hall in Seattle Center through Saturday, Aug. 18.
Hannah was part of an interesting presentation about the opera by Seattle Opera’s director of education, Sue Elliot, at the Freeland Library.
Giacomo Puccini’s “Turandot” made its premiere less than 100 years ago, on the cusp of the modern age, which is relatively young for an opera, Elliot said. Set in China’s Imperial City, this work, considered a great operatic masterpiece, recounts the legend of a bloodthirsty princess named “Turandot,” whose icy, vengeful heart softens as she comes to know true love. The lyrical and sweeping score includes the popular tenor aria “Nessun dorma,” one that Elliot said is most likely recognizable even to those who don’t know opera music well.
“Turandot,” Elliot told the audience at the library, features lots of pageantry, passionate confrontations, and a famous riddle scene complete with a gong like on “The Gong Show,” and one of opera’s most powerful kisses.
In addition to bringing the audience behind the scenes of the opera and talking in-depth about the history of “Turandot,” and certain facets of the music and its composer, Elliot gave Hannah the floor to talk about her experience, after playing a beautiful song that will be sung by the children.
What’s it like to be onstage, Elliot asked Hannah.
“Well, first of all we’re not on stage, we’re backstage, so we can see everyone milling around and I’d have to say the whole thing is very epic.”
“There are many, many principles and incredibly beautiful costumes. The sheer volume of people involved is enormous; 28 children in the chorus and huge adult chorus of 89. And there are weapons, props, costumes, sets. It’s magical!”
“We started rehearsing in April, twice a week with our choral director Beth. And just started learning the music and learning the pronunciation for one, because the Italian is so difficult. We had June off and started back in July with the enormous adult chorus, so it was 30 little kids meeting sopranos, basses, baritones, and it was a little overwhelming at first.
Another thing about the process that Hannah thought was particularly remarkable was the amount of people who were working behind the scenes, including production assistants, choreographers, vocal coaches, band members and backstage maestros.
“What’s the most surprising thing for you?” Elliot asked.
“I think the most surprising thing is thinking about opera and Puccini and Italian and everything, it’s so high-brow,” Hannah said. “But there are so many people out there, like in the adult chorus; it’s moms and dads and uncles and people who drive cars and do normal things. These are just ordinary people who happen to love opera and who love singing,” she said.
Hear Hannah and the Youth Chorus of “Turandot” on the website in an overview of Puccini’s music with maestro Ascher Fisch. Also, hear “Turandot” broadcast live Saturday, Aug. 11 on KING FM.
Here is a Seattle Opera blog about it and the Facebook page.
Performances of “Turandot” are presented in Italian with English subtitles at McCaw Hall at the Seattle Center. Approximate Running Time: 2 hours, 40 minutes, with two intermissions. Get tickets at the website.