Many years ago, in 2002, BCCO did the Carmina Burana. We worked very hard and the piece came together pretty well. We had boys from the SF Boys’ Chorus and a soprano, tenor, contra-tenor, and bass soloists. Our tenor was very good looking (dark hair and eyes) and had a beautiful voice. It was kind of an extravaganza.
Our last performance was on Sunday at 4:00 at St. John the Worker Church. The contra-tenor did not sing until after our intermission. He was a young, struggling musician and had some mid-day gig in San Francisco and planned to make our performance later in the day. He was, however, depending on public transportation to get to his performance with us. There were no cell phones in those days so there was no way for him to reach Arlene.
We had a successful first half and after the intermission, the chorus and orchestra took our seats and then Arlene and the soloists came out. The sopranos were whispering, “where is the contra-tenor?” We didn’t know if Arlene had made some other plan—she said nothing about it and she began conducting. I suspected that she hadn’t noticed his absence.
When it came time for the contra tenor to sing, Arlene turned to cue him, and he was not there. Arlene stopped the orchestra, turned to the audience and said (paraphrasing here), “I have stopped because the soloists who was to sing at this time is not here. We will have to skip this section.” At that moment, the very good looking tenor said, “I know this part.” Arlene: “Can you sing it now?” Tenor: “Yes,” and stood up. Arlene nodded to him, turned to the orchestra, and began to conduct.
He was marvelous—perfect performance and gorgeous guy. Our audience broke out in applause when he finished his solo, like at the opera. At the end of the performance, we got a standing ovation and he got cheers and bravos when he took his bow. And I thought to myself—only in this chorus would this happen in this way! It was the kind of magical event that can happen in a live performance and it’s the kind of magic that happens in our wonderful chorus.