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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
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.