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Ian Robertson: The Chorus Master

May 24, 2013

Chorus master at San Francisco Opera for the past 20 years, Ian Robertson has done a fair bit of new and modern opera. He was here for Messiaen’s Saint Francois d’Assise (“one of the most thrilling experiences in my musical life”), as well as all the productions of Aida, Turandot, and other choral spectaculars that the company has put on in that time. He takes great pride in the fact that his chorus can sing well in all the different styles required by the broad SFO repertory and also perform on stage without attracting undue attention. Here he talks about preparing a new work, and the challenges that brings.

Getting to Know the Score

Robertson reports that he and his singers were ecstatic to discover that Mark Adamo has written The Gospel According to Mary Magdalene as a grand opera with a large and vital role for the chorus.

Getting to Know the Score on YouTube

Notes and Staging

A chorus sings together in the rehearsal hall, but on stage that unity is blown apart as choristers have intricate stage business to work out, and may be placed yards away from each other. Robertson takes us through that process.

Ian Robertson: Notes and Staging on YouTube

Beyond the Premiere

As every working theater composer knows, the premiere performance will have a major impact on the work’s viability in repertory. Robertson takes this question almost as a technical challenge: If his chorus gets beyond the notes to convey the meaning of the words and the musical sense connected to them, a good piece has a decent chance of surviving to a revival.

Beyond the Premiere on YouTube

Michael Zwiebach is the senior editor/ content manager for SFCV. He assigns all articles and content, manages the writing staff and does editing. A member of SFCV from the beginning, Michael holds a Ph.D. in music history from the University of California, Berkeley.