Happy Easter, O Word Readers!
By now you’ve eaten yourself into a chocolate coma or possibly over-indulged on the Hot Cross Buns… Good for you! Easter time brings family together and everyone is at peace due to the long weekend. Unfortunately for opera singers, events like Easter usually mean performing more: singing at morning masses and performing in Oratorios.
There, I said the other O Word. Oratorio. But what even IS oratorio?
An oratorio is a musical piece that is usually lengthy and based on a Biblical or religious event. It is a performance for voice and orchestra, but the story is told through the music, and not with scenery, costumes, and action. Opera and Oratorio have many similarities; Both had deep roots in the middle ages with mystery and passion plays and portrayal of legends and saints. Both were written in a sacred and secular style and both originated from Italy. Oratorio was there for those (silly) people who’d give up the theatre for Lent. With Easter Oratorios (Referred to as ‘Passions’) and Christmas Oratorios being composed by Bach, Handel, Carrisimi and later by Mendelssohn, Britten and others, Oratorio has become a major part in the career and life of any Classical Singer.
But no genre comes without its faults! Here are the eight struggles of being an Oratorio Singer…
1. Put away the sparkles. While this rule isn’t set in stone, most of the time for an Oratorio performance you’ll be told to wear black ball gowns. Put away that sparkly red dress you were looking at and don the black! I guess it DOES make us all look professionally together, but where’s the fun in that?!
2. Prepare yourself for the puns. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve just found Opera Singers to be some of the punniest people I’ve ever met… And there’s something about oratorio that brings out the worst in them. I just can’t Handel that these puns keep coming Bach!
3. No more Coloratura… Please. Obviously because I’m not physically running around stage, these composers believe my voice can make the move for me, right? Not right. What is with Oratorio and Coloratura? My brain (and voice) can’t take it!
4. At least the words aren’t difficult. But after singing it a few times over, you do wonder why there hasn’t been an ‘Oratorio Drinking Game’ created yet. Every time you say the words “Hallelujah” or “Amen” take a shot! … Okay maybe this isn’t such a good choice.
5. Sorry uncomfortable Audiences! Considering how long oratorios go for, I do feel bad for the audience as they sit on uncomfortable wooden pews.
6. …But not sorry. There is nothing more excruciating than standing on the same place for two hours in high heels! Your feet, legs and back start to ache and you have to stand there as if there’s nothing wrong at all. We’re always told ‘wear appropriate footwear’: But if we were really able to do this, I’d be wearing my running shoes under my ball gown.
7. Blinded by the light! There’s always been the struggle of being blinded by stage lighting in opera, but at least you can stare away from the lights and continue with action. What’s terrible about oratorio is when you’re standing in a cathedral and finding yourself blinded by sun shining through a stained glass window, destroying any chances of being able to see the conductor. Look, it’s pretty… But the struggle is real.
8. And lastly… The Acoustics. Don’t get me wrong, churches are beautiful venues. These days, however, they can vary from large cathedrals to community centres… And so we end up singing and either finding ourselves unable to hear each other or listening to the ‘Amen’ we sang ten seconds ago. This is the struggle of changing acoustics.
But none of these struggles are going to stop us from performing this beautiful genre of music. From Bach’s Passions to Handel’s Messiah to the many many oratorios that survive through the day. This is a beautiful art form that has survived generations, lesser known to the public. So the next time you see “The Other O Word”… Why not buy a ticket to a concert and give it a try? You’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised.
Written by Katherine Goyder