Vocal challenges in “Phantom”
By Kelly Benning and David Kramer
Before rehearsal began for “ Phantom of the Opera,” a cast member made the mistake of mentioning his upcoming ski trip. Choral director Suzanne Dickinger glared, exclaiming that skiing was unacceptable for singers. “ You could break arms and legs!” she said.
Theater productions always require dedication and sacrifices, but this year’ s spring musical, “Phantom of the Opera,” is more challenging because of the show’ s vocal complexity.
“I would love it to be their number one priority,” Dickinger said. “ It’ s vocally very difficult, not only for the leads but for the chorus. [Composer] Andrew Lloyd Weber is very tough on singers. I don’t think he likes singers very much because he creates vocal lines that are so difficult.”
As the name suggests, “ Phantom” is an opera, which means that the notes are difficult to hit.
“With opera comes a lot of higher notes,” said sophomore Nell Hoban, the understudy for the lead female role, Christine. “ The highest note for ensemble members is a C sharp—which is very high for girls.”
Many of the vocalists have voice coaches, including senior David Gleichman. Gleichman has worked with Richard Zuch, a professional voice coach, for three years, and recently they have concentrated on perfecting his portrayal of the Phantom.
We work on “ a combination of singing things correctly, so that it’ s safe for [David’ s] voice, and
something decent to listen to,” Zuch said.
Zuch and Gleichman work together for an hour and 20 minutes once a week. Dickinger appreciates the outside instruction, because otherwise the music would be too difficult for the singers to handle.
“You couldn’t do ‘Phantom’ if you didn’t have a voice teacher. It’s pretty tough,” Dickinger said.
Because they are pushing the limits of their voices in practice, several cast members take measures to protect their voices outside of rehearsal.
“I can’ t go to concerts at all,” Gleichman said. “And no doing anything that would jeopardize my voice like screaming or yelling. [We] can’ t get sick. No sharing water or anything.”
Junior Laura McCauley, who plays Carlotta, went even further than avoiding yelling at concerts.
“I’m going to try not to talk very much in class or talk very much in general,” she said. “ I’ m only speaking when I necessarily have to.”
Vocalists are also careful about what they eat to protect their voices.
“If you’re going to be singing you shouldn’t be eating or drinking dairy or chocolate,” Dickinger said.
Dairy products create sinus problems which can affect the voice and make it difficult to clear the throat.
For a few of the seniors, this is not the only difficult music that they are learning. Both leads, Gleichman and senior Emilyn Badgley, are auditioning for vocal performance colleges. In addition to learning music for “ Phantom,” they also have to learn new pieces for their auditions.
“With so many of us majoring in music, we have to time our college auditions really specifically; we can’ t miss any performances,” Gleichman said.
Gleichman even had to reschedule an audition for Juliard, a premier performing arts college in New York.
With the significant time commitment “ Phantom” requires, some of the seasoned performers have come to expect the effect the show has on their lives outside of rehearsal.
“Usually during third marking period my grades take a dip,” Badgley, who plays Christine, said.
Despite the challenges presented, Dickinger said that she is confident that the show will go on.
“It’s quite an undertaking to do in seven weeks. I think audiences will be blown away—if there’s no [more] snow,” she said.
Kelly Benning can be reached at email@example.com
This article originally appeared on page 16 of the Feb. 14, 2011 issue of The Spoke.