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Article by Janet I. Martineau
Impressive resume, the guest contralto singing with the Saginaw Choral Society on Saturday, Feb. 25, when it presents Mozart’s Requiem.
The Boston area resident has landed roles with Opera Boston, Boston Lyric Opera and Opera in the Ozarks ... is heard as a member of the Seraphic Fire ensemble on its Grammy-nominated CD ... played Meg in the New England premiere of the Little Women opera ... oratorio and chamber roles across the nation
And in 1999 this busy Boston contralto, Emily Marvosh, graduated from Valley Lutheran High School in Saginaw—having that same year won a Saginaw Choral Society scholarship to summer camp at Interlochen.
“And here is a funny story for you,” she says in a phone call. “When I was in the 5th grade at Peace Lutheran, I was cut from the angel choir in the Christmas pageant because I was told I couldn’t carry a tune.”
She laughs at the memory—this woman of whom critics have since written is possessed of a “flexible technique and ripe color” and demonstrating “smooth, apparently effortless vocal display.”
So, she says, she is looking forward to the Saginaw Choral Society gig to prove things have changed, having since settled in Boston where she earned her master of music degree in voice at Boston University.
During her Saginaw years, says the daughter of David and Suzanne Marvosh of Saginaw, she was a “nerdy kid” who was in band and choir at the school but not into opera or even acting in plays.
When she went off to Central Michigan University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in vocal performance, the tide turned. “I enjoyed singing in the choirs there, and got a chance to study abroad in Vienna, Austria. I went to an opera house just about every night ... went to 30 operas in one semester. And that experience made it apparent I could make a living at this -opera, oratorio, solos.”
And so it has come to pass. Two years ago, she says, she quit a full-time job and has keep busy as a employed freelance singer ever since.
“There is a lot of hustle involved in doing that—outreach programs into schools for one thing. And I also have a Sunday morning church job as one of eight paid core singers in the choir filled out by 20 volunteers. Mixed choirs like that are not unusual in cities like Boston and New York.”
Currently her resume is about split even—one-third opera roles, one-third solo parts in oratorios, one-third ensemble work.
“I love them both (opera vs. oratorio) for many different reasons. Right now I am doing a lot of concert work, like what I am doing in Saginaw, and right now that is what I love the most. I find it very exciting because you are right there with the conductor and the orchestra. In opera you are up on the stage and the orchestra and conductor are in the pit.
“And there is so much being written for the concert stage and well as the revival of things, like oratorios not heard in 400 years.
“But with opera, there are the costumes. ... getting to play the role of Meg. What girl did not grow up loving Little Women. And with opera there is the long-time commitment—six weeks of rehearsals and several performances of the same piece of music, so you really get to explore it and the character, the emotions.”
Fortunately, she says, she enjoys the travel aspect of being a freelance singer in this day and age. In the last couple of years she’s been to Arizona, Oregon, Florida, New Hampshire, Rhode Island.
In April she’ll return to Michigan to sing the St. John Passion for the Kalamazoo Bach Festival.
Miami is where the Grammy-nominated Seraphic Fire is located, although it tours as well.
The ensemble is 10 years old, she says, and varies from 12 to 24 singers depending on the need as well as a contingent of instrumentalists. “A quarter to a third of them live in Miami and the rest come from around the country. Getting invited to sing with them is a matter of connections—they’ve heard of your name or heard you once.” She joined them in 2005.
As for the Mozart Requiem which brings her to Saginaw, it will be her second time performing it. What she loves about life as her career progresses “is realizing you are singing a piece differently than you were singing it two or three years ago because you have changed. And, of course, every performance is different with a different conductor, a different concert hall, a different audience, different soloists you are working with. “What is wonderful about the Mozart Requiem is there is so much ensemble singing between the four soloists; it’s like they form their own little quartet.” Joining her in Saginaw are soprano Mary Martin, tenor Brian Giebler and baritone Steven Eddy—all working on music degrees at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Every day, Marvosh says, she sings in some way—rehearsals can run three hours as a program nears; she tries to add in an hour or two at home on her own, learning new material or just exercising her voice; then there are the church choir rehearsals.
Not bad for a 5th grader who couldn’t carry a tune.
The Feb. 25 Saginaw Choral Society concert begins at 8 p.m. at the Temple Theatre, 203 N. Washington. Conductor Glen Thomas Rideout and the singers also will perform some familiar spirituals during the evening.
“With the concert falling during Black History Month, the spirituals became a perfect fit,” says Rideout. “When one attended a Latin Mass during Mozart’s time, the structure and regularity of it were quite predictable. On the flip side, when one attends an African American church service, the spirituals are filled with a type of musical freedom and expression. We want to show the contrast between the two, while also honoring them simultaneously.”
Among the featured spirituals are “Steal Away” and “Ain’t That Good News,” both arranged by Moses Hogan, as well as a piece called “MLK,” written by the rock group U2 and arranged by Bob Chilcott.
A new post concert activity has been added to this evening as well. After the concert, patrons can walk next door to the Saginaw Club for an afterglow and piano bar with drinks and light munchies.
Tickets to the concert are $25, $20 and $10—or buy two tickets and get one free. Students are admitted free with an ID. Call 754-SHOW to reserve tickets.
© Janet I. Martineau