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The Damnation Of Faust
by Tom Reed, Chorus

Picture the scene. Bleak walls squeeze in from every side. Dark, sinister creatures lurk everywhere. The dregs of humanity writhe in squalor. Depravity fills every doorway. The unwholesome revel in every vice and iniquity. Violence! Corruption! Decadence! Debauchery! Of course I’m just describing the drive down Sixth Street on the way to the Opera House from the freeway. Once you get there, Berlioz’s opera is actually a happy story about going to heaven.

For the chorus the performance starts either in a box or a pit. Being a box chorister, I get to share an undersized bench with a few other operatic types in a theater box overlooking not the stage, but rather the audience. The audience sees a set surrounded by a chorus—seated in boxes or in an onstage orchestra—facing back at them, almost like a mirror image of themselves. Most, but not all of the action takes place on the central set. Elegantly dressed and coiffed choristers appear relaxed and involved with the action nearby on stage—no mean feat considering the pain of sitting sandwiched together on just one gluteus maximum with a shoulder smashed against a wall which totally obscures the stage from their view. But judging from some of the facial expressions in the audience, the action on stage must be riveting! Rumors of semi-nude mimes and scandalous behavior are only heightened by observing several members of the orchestra who seem to have taken the extraordinary step of memorizing parts of their music so they can keep an eye on the show. But for the chorus, the onstage goings-on must remain a tantalizing mystery. At least those in the boxes get the rare opportunity to read the supertitle translations as the show unfolds. You know, almost every line that is sung means something! It’s so thrilling to be part of an opera like that.